Saturday 22 June 2024

Homemade Cube 3rd Printrun (Part 17)

I had some space left on the print run after doing the Art Set and wanted to put it to good use. I had 92 card slots to play with and so took some completed new designs I was most excited to use first. That took 77 of the slots. The remaining 15 I gave to the most pressing of reprints on cards needing a rebalance. 

Despite this 3rd print run being small it is very pointed. The Homemade Cube started out life with multiple goals and aims in mind but over time I have focused those aims. I am now just trying to make the most fun format, and with that single goal in mind I know more what I need to do to achieve that. I previously made a lot of functional magic cards that led to a somewhat slow and dry format. Now we are trying to spice it up! 

I had a few "issues" I wanted solving and a few experiments I wanted to try. I wanted more colourless removal, I wanted more non-green means of mana ramping, and I wanted more tools to interact with the graveyard. It is fairly obvious which cards are aimed at these tasks! I wanted to push my aristocrats archetype harder and so gave them a very rounded helping of quite pushed support. 

In the guise of bolstering archetypes I provided some touching up on the support for energy and graveyard matters stuff. Lastly I wanted to provide some better threats at pressuring control decks as I felt they were getting a little strong. These control pressurizers are the most diverse group of cards with artifacts, awkward vehicles, manlands, cheap dorks etc.

After these direct solution cards it was all about fun and experimenting. A lot of the fun cards were reworkings of some of mine and my playgroups favourite cards. Be that an updating for power level reasons or just some kind of reworking to make is suitably different from its inspiration card. These are pretty obvious and not at all trying to hide their inspiration. 

The experimental stuff is mostly with free spells, I expect to cut most of these for being oppressive but one has to dip a toe into these waters to be able to understand them. That is the whole point of experimenting! I dabbled in some card quality that is of equal power level across the colours. There is also a cycle of cards aimed at bringing down the power level of tokens by having protection from them. These were pushed to ensure they saw play so that in turn I could see how the protection panned out. If it is good and plays well these cards will likely be reigned in a little so as to stop them just getting played everywhere!

The final 15 cards on this spoiler list are some reworked reprints. I have nearly 200 of these sat in a folder, mostly with minor typos or visual errors. Plenty also of cards needing a tweak up or down in power level. Generally these are fairly low priority as I have over 1000 cards to chose from and only want a cube just over half that size! Most of these are tweaks that are making little to no difference, and in the rare case the card in question is rendered unplayable it usually matters not. There is not too much pressing me to make a slightly buffed version of a card that isn't exciting, necessary, or untested!

Here is the list of new additions;


Homemade Cube Third Expansion

I have played with the new cards a few times now and they are mostly as I expected. The free blue counterspell, even as a lowly Force Spike seems like no fun at all, and soon for the chopping block. The others are feeling a lot more reasonable. The cards I expected to seem pushed have been good but at least not yet broken. The biggest misses so far have been a couple of the reworked big blue dorks, which on many accounts seem just as problematic, if not more so in some cases than before! All in all the format is a lot healthier, the gaps are suitably plugged, there is more spice and excitement and the games are speeding up. There is still work to do on that front I think but a lot is my own fault for being a total sucker for a really grindy deck. If I keep building them that way of course my games are going to be long....

Sunday 2 June 2024

Art Set Spoilers


I have been teasing the "Art Set" for nearly a year now. A top down homemade set inspired by famous art and artists. Here are the spoilers for the finished article. Or at least the alpha set to playtest! Even with the prior experience of the Homemade cube I am expecting there to be plenty of room to improve and/or expand.

There are 520 new spells, plus 90 lands that are mechanically copies of the designs in the Homemade cube but given art befitting the Art Set. We actually made over a thousand cards for the Art Set and cherry picked the best and most suitable of those to form the set. Being a top down design meant this over production was a sensible approach so as to best attempt to have all bases covered. 

Very excited to see how this plays out. I am assuming it will be rather more like a standard set that most cubes. It is certainly lower power than any cube I have played. I think I should probably shut up waffling on about it now and let the cards do the talking;












Art Set Black


U set



Sunday 19 May 2024

Carried by Tutors

As a local play group we have switched over from regularly playing either my unpowered cube or my homemade cube to a classic vintage cube build for the last month or so (list of that to be found here although as it is relatively recently rebuilt it is undergoing rather more tweaking than usual This is a small tale of a recent draft and what I learned.

I thought my draft had gone badly, I thought I had half of three decks, all too thin to stand alone, that I was going to have to hope to get lucky with. Instead, my deck went on to win on turn three pretty comfortably undisrupted and still more than capable of winning through disruption. I dropped a single game to a dumb misplay (Entombing a card I wanted directly into exile because I had played a Yawgmoth's Will) and waltzed through the rest like they were all playing standard booster draft! 

So how had I so poorly judged the potency of my deck? It is not often one thinks they have a pile and then goes on to dominate the field. There is a heuristic in magic about trying to do to much. You want your deck to do one thing. The fact that I had three angles that lacked redundancy felt like I was off to a bad start in regards opinions on my pool. This was my main concern. My mana fixing was also less than ideal. I was rather lacking in interaction. I felt like I had some filler just padding out the list. Mainly it was about having the many thin plans that I was concerned however a bias also crept in that amplified my concern well beyond reason.

In my unpowered cube I do not have any combo options, it is all aggro, midrange and control. With the power creep as it tempo became paramount in that format. That in turn rendered tutor effects pretty useless. You were usually just getting some generic curve play or answer and not specific combo pieces. As such tutor cards stopped seeing play. Raw draw and card quality effects were simply a lot more efficient tools for that kind of consistency. As such I had rather forgotten quite how potent tutors are. The main reason I thought my deck sucked was because I was undervaluing tutors in the new meta of vintage cube. Not only are there myriad combos, from powerful interactions to win on the spot, the cards in general are vastly more powerful and varied giving your tutors a lot more range and punch too. Toss five premium tutor effects into a deck with multiple combos in it and you have a fairly robust and consistent little engine on your hands. Here is what I ran;

Misty Rainforest

Xander's Lounge

12 Basic

Mox Ruby

Chrome Mox

Lion's Eye Diamond

Sol Ring

Dark Ritual

Deathrite Shaman

Careful Study


Aether Spellbomb

Vampiric Tutor

Demonic Tutor

Talisman of Creativity

Grim Monolith

Collective Brutality

Wishclaw Talisman

Fallaji Archeologist

Yawgmoth's Will

Hull Breacher

Lurrus, of the Dream Den

Force of Negation



Tendrils of Agony


Echo of Eons

Bolas' Citadel

Primarily this is a bad storm deck, but it also is a failed Tinker deck and a  Hullbreacher abuser. If I have a Hullbreacher deck I want more of the symmetrical draw 7 effects as well as more of the punisher effects (Leovold/Narset/Sheoldred/Bowmasters). I like three of each not one of each! When it comes to Tinker I like at least two good targets, ideally somewhat standalone ones. Blightsteel Colossus, Portal to Phyrexia, and that sort of jazz. Also ideally ones that attack on different axis. My only big target needs a high life total, further things to go with it, and some good fortune. All while sorely lacking in Divining Top to abuse properly! 

The storm element was my best shot, the Citadel Tinker plan plays into it quite well, but even so, it was rubbish on paper. Storm decks are the ones that want to be more pure. Every card that is off theme hurts the consistency. This list was half a midrange deck with what felt like just a hint of storm tools. Practically I am trying to go off with Ritual, LED and the other mana rocks, plus Yawgmoth's Will, or just getting pretty luck with the Citadel. That is a long long way off a storm deck. That is a free sample, a trailer to a storm deck, a demo and not the whole article. 

These seemed like insurmountable problems but when push came to shove the fact that a fifth of the spells in the list are tutors, and pretty good ones at that, fully carried it. I always had the tools I needed, I could always quickly assemble what I needed to win in any given gap or get out of sticky situations. Vamp and Demonic are well known and understood for being the best tutors. The others in this list are a little less intuitive. Tinker is a tutor even if the main abuse is gaining mana advantage. It feels laughable to get an LED or an Aether Spellbomb, but if that is all you need to be able to go off and win it starts to feel like a pretty good Tinker target. You can even get Wishclaw for the dodgy long way round to find anything!

Entomb is also well known for being great and it was working triple duty in this list. With Lurrus it was able to tutor up some utility, it was able to setup having some things you needed in the bin for a Yawgmoth's Will turn, and most importantly of all it was able to put Echo of Eons exactly where you want it. This added up to make it one of my best cards. It tended to be the 2nd tutor I wanted. Mostly I was either getting Echo or LED in the bin but that was all very powerful and on plan for most of my routes to victory. 

The real standout card was Wishclaw Talisman. I was not expecting it to be competing with these other big name tutors and it really did. Mostly you need to win, or at least do utterly devastating things with it on the turn you first use it. Giving away tutors is a bit (a lot) dodgy, but winning on the spot turned out to be very easy. Especially when you have a one mana Demonic Tutor. That was the real strength of the card, you get to pay 2/3rds of the cost on a prior turn and only need to pay 1 mana on the turn you go off. It is all the good bits of Vamp and Demonic rolled into one card. You can even sack it off to Tinker! It would have been even more impressive if I could have found an Upheaval to replace the rather desperate seeming Damnation. 

The Damnation was absolutely the worst card, I never needed it and would have done better with an filler cantrip or generic interactive card, be that targetted single target bounce/removal or hand disruption or countermagic. I ran it out of fear that I was going to just die to random crap and not be quick enough. I wanted outs rather than improving what the deck itself was doing and I didn't need to be running scared. 

The other card I wanted most after the Upheaval was a simple Brainstorm. It would have made the Tinker a whole lot more reliable and would have generally worked incredibly well in the list. Obviously you always want a Brainstorm, I just passed one in the draft quite early and lived to regret it. Careful Study did a pretty good job of representing Brainstorm all things considered. It might be the other card that stood out most above expectation in the list. 

The moral of todays story is that tutors are great in vintage cube, likely the second best generic type of card after mana acceleration. If you have a pile of good mana ramp and a pile of tutors you struggle to go too far wrong. Tutors are better in vintage cube than unpowered cube not just because they are finding combos but because the cards in general are that much more powerful and swingy. The right card in an unpowered card is not often going to make back the cost of finding it, no threat or answer still looks good when you add two mana to the cost. In vintage cube a lot of things still seem great even when you pay two more for them. Really there is no cost too high to setup a Time Twister Hullbreacher combo!

There in is another strength of the deck and the tutors there in. If you can easily threaten a devastating Hullbreacher play your opponent has to be super careful which allows you to easily win in other ways. It just gives you that time and breathing space, it opens up windows that might not overwise have been. 

Thursday 9 May 2024

The Hidden Power in Cheap Draw


We have seen power creep in most areas of magic (only really excluding mana acceleration), both ultimately over the whole existence of the game, and more consistently in recent history too. While creatures, and then necessarily the removal to cope with them, have received most attention of the power creep it is likely that value or card advantage have crept the next most. Most colours now have access to it in some form or other and the going rate for it in terms of mana and hoops to jump through has plummeted. 

Now, with this being the case, cheap raw draw is still nearly impossible to come by. All the power creep in value seems to be in the mid and top end of the curve. Night's Whisper remains the second best "pure" card advantage spell in terms of mana paid to net cards drawn after Ancestral Recall. This seems wild to me. Divination is an embarrassingly low power card and yet still the standard. Why are they throwing free added value on stuff all over the shop but being so restrained in printing cheap cards that just do value? 

The short answer is that you end up with a card that is a bit too good at all points on the spectrum. Magic is a game that starts out with lots of card based resources but few mana based ones and transforms into the the reverse over time. Late game the player with access to more cards tends to win while early game the player who is able to deploy the right things, or indeed, anything at all, will be the winner. 

This is where cards like Preordain come in. They offer negative tempo and no value but they cheaply do a lot to ensure you cast the right things early on and so more than merit the cost. In terms of the early game, drawing X cards and scrying X has a near identical boost to your chances of casting the right things and winning the early game. A cheap card draw spell simply doubles up as a card quality spell while the costlier value sources come a bit late for that to be a big saving grace.

It isn't that effectively scrying for 2 at 2 mana is too good, nor that drawing two cards for two mana is too good, it is that rolling them together into one card, as you must physically do in any Night's Whisper esque card, you wind up with something that is too convenient and potent at all points without enough real drawback. It is value for late and consistency early. There is a hidden internal scaling with card draw as you reduce the cost, you need to pay for both the card draw and the card quality aspects of the spell, else you get too good of a deal. 

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Vintage Cube Wins


There has always been a divide in the cube community between powered and unpowered, or vintage and legacy respectively. All cube was the powered vintage format in the dawn of cube in the early two thousands as there was not enough powerful cards to make a cube without them! That was somewhat the whole point of cube. Slowly however as the cards crept up in power there was an argument for one or the other, powered or unpowered. Some people want to play cube for the silliness, the extreme plays and power potential. It is light relief from more conventional magic formats. These are your vintage cubers that love their power. 

Then you have the likes of me, someone who prefers consistency and good competitive games. I did away with power, and cards that have that really swingy polar play pattern too them about 15 years ago, around the time planeswalkers joined the game. Much as the language I have used here is pretty biased, there is no right or wrong. It is all about preference, and knowing what yours and your play groups is. I used to me much more adamant that powerless was the way to go but I am rather changing my tune on that front now too. 

Largely this is down to the new era of cards we are seeing. Cards like Minsc and Boo, Hull Breacher, and Solitude. Typically found in the sets that never go into standard, although not exclusively. These cards are just too good for my unpowered cube. They utterly dominate it in the way that the power used to. In a powered cube these newer additions are much more interesting and playable. They make the top end options more interesting and the gulf between the top and the bottom smoother and smaller. Powered cube is the healthiest it has ever been. It is the best and fairest way to play with some of the most powerful and iconic cards in magics rich history. It is also the only sensible cube vessel to pack a lot of the most egregious new stuff. If you want to explore the full extent of magic from the oldest to the newest it somewhat has to be vintage cube. 

Sure, the games may be a little more wild and random, but they are a whole lot of fun. I was finding that I was losing my way somewhat with my own cube. Once you start along the line of "that is too good", or "I don't like that play pattern", the cube rather loses its identity. It is just a draft format you have created that resembles a cube. This is why I have made so many themed cubes over recent years. In search of that identity that is missing in mine. Slap on a title like gold, or budget, or artifact, or combo, or even homemade, and you have guidance. You know what you are doing with your cube, the cards you can look to add, those you can't and with much clearer direction in mind. My main cube is presently just a collection of roughly 540 cards that you can play limited from. It isn't the best cards. It isn't even the best cards minus the cards I deem a little too good. That is because the bottom half of cards as it were, are there to support the top half in doing there thing as well as can be. So, my cube is a collection of 2nd best cards and things that work with them. Sure, the games are pretty good but I imagine there are near infinite random things I could do with endless assortments of random magic cards that were comparably good. 

Vintage cube hasn't won because it plays better. Vintage cube has won because it has the most clear identity. You know where you are with vintage cube and it does a far better job of being an envoy for the game and history its history. We can talk about vintage cube and immediately be on the same page without having to provide loads of stipulations and doing a bunch of recalibrating. Vintage cube is cube and all other cubes are variants. It has likely been that way for a while now too but as I sat on the other side of the fence it was rather harder to see. I was a couple of years too slow on cutting the power as I had biases and attachments and I suspect I did much the same job of missing that boat on the return journey! Now that I have my homemade cube it seems like it makes much more sense to run that alongside a vintage cube. It also makes rather more sense to do content from a more vintage cube perspective too.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Jenny (and Spike, Timmy and Jonny)


I briefly explained the Timmy, Jonny and Spike concept to my wife for some reason the other day and without missing a beat she just asked me "What about Jenny?"

Jenny is someone who doesn't care much about winning, she just wants everybody to have a good time. A Jenny will help the Spike to feel good, share enthusiasm with the Timmy, and not interfere with the Jonny. 

Admittedly there is the social element of gaming baked into the Timmy definition. There is good reason for Jenny just being rolled into Timmy and not having a distinct term as it were in Magic. Why a Jenny is just a footnote of Timmy is likely that there are very few Jennys playing magic, or at least there were not when the design concepts came about. For one, Magic is a very male dominated game and the Jenny characteristics do seem to be more common elsewhere! That being said, I have a tiny and statistically irrelevant sample size to be going with. For what it is worth, Jenny is a real person we know and game with whom my wife was referring to, it just seems to work well with Jonny, Spike and Timmy as a name to use.

There are aspects of Jenny that are distinct from Timmy and why are why they should probably be more that a footnote therein! Jenny cares about the social aspect of the game more than the competitive or the mechanical. Timmy wants to win big and Jenny wants Timmy to win big too. They are fairly happy being the martyr for a suitably good win for another player. They are getting things from other people's positive experiences and from cooperation and teamwork. Jennys are great in social settings for helping everything go smoothly. The natural neutron as it were of the atomic game analogy.

The main thing making Magic a low Jenny game however is that a 1v1 game of any sort is not all that well suited to Jenny players. A nice four player game of Agricola is one where a Jenny can really have a great experience. Or indeed, one of many mechanically cooperative games where the whole group can win. Magic does now have a strong multiplayer scene and in those the Jenny is much more able to enjoy magic. The "Group Hug" player is just the EHD terminology for a Jenny as there isn't need for the term outside of the EDH community. Wizards are well aware of the Jenny in that they produce and print group hug cards. It just feels like they should be acknowledged within the classic categories as well as just getting cards designed for them. 

This was just one of the many random discoveries I found along the way in my homemade cube project. It has little baring on either my cube or my design projects in Magic as I am not making them for multiplayer use at all. It is however something useful to take outside my Magic life when I tinker with other game designs. I remain impressed at the degree of transferrable skills I have procured from Magic over the years, and the fact that there is still so much to uncover. 

Thursday 22 February 2024

Homemade Cube Crossroads

I am at a nice lull in the homemade cube project. The second run of cards are out, well palyed and understood. They fixed most of the problems, and the new problems with them, and the cube at large are mostly now known too. The really problematic cards, boring cards, and bad cards, are all cut and there is a relatively small waiting list of tuning tweaks to existing cards and some new designs not far off ready to print for the third run. Rather than rushing this through as I did with round two of the card prints, I am going super slowly. This has all been the case for some weeks and I expect to stay that way for many more with relatively little change or progress. It very much feels like the time in the creative process to simple let it brew in the background. Not apply much active thought, let the enthusiasm recharge and let the subconscious ruminate over it all. 

I attribute a large part of this lull to a directional choice that needs making in regards what I want my homemade cube to be. It was not even a question I was aware of when I embarked upon the project. Recently most  of the group I cube with went on holiday together and a bunch of other gamer mates. There was like 20 of them with more than enough for some 8 man events. They wanted to take the homemade cube with them and I was happy to oblige with some outside testing being of much interest. While they were away playing that, I did my first cubes using my main cube since getting the homemade stuff. The experiences of those main cube games after so long and the feedback from the strangers all pointed towards the same thing. Do I want poker Magic or do I want chess Magic? 

These are the best ways I can think to shorthand the directions I can go in but I shall elaborate. Neither is better or worse than the other, it is simply a preference. My homemade cube was described as "too smooth" and "lacking jeopardy" which are reasonable criticisms. The huge consistency, option density and reasonable power level of threats in my cube ensures you are losing to screw and flood infrequently nor getting beaten by a god draw. You get to play your game but your game is going to be long and hard fought. The tide will change with incremental advantages over many turns. Games are long, there are lots of choices, and the player making the better ones tends to win! A good test of skill? Yes. The most fun you could be having with Magic? Unlikely.

In stark contrast the games in my main cube are a lot shorter. Out of three games it feels like you only get one real game, with the other two being decided by the draw, be it a god draw or a wonky land one. Games are much shorter, a best of three takes little longer than a single game in the homemade cube. There is a lot of going all in, something happens which you probably lose to so you take a risky line that contains your only possible out. These games are some of the most fun. The ones where you felt like you had no agency are frustrating. In my strive to cut out the frustration I also seemed to cut some of the fun as well.

Basically the average game in my homemade cube is substantially better than that with normal magic. The best games however are absolutely to be found in real Magic. I have slated much about their design process over the years but now I start to peel back the layers of the onion I am able to appreciate where they really do excel. And that is making fun cards and fun and exciting formats. 

I have been looking very hard at what is fun and what designs result in it, it is hard to distil. There is indeed an article in the works discussing the concept of fun within card design. My main aim is to inject the homemade cube with as much fun as possible. It is fine on all other accounts so that seems like the place to focus. I strongly suspect however that the main way I am going to be able to inject fun into the homemade cube is to make it more poker and less chess. More swingy cards, more wild and wonderful threats etc. I think a lot of fun comes at the cost of balance, certainly if we are talking about fun in terms of unit of fun per unit of time rather than amount of fun per game. The main issue I had with the homemade cube with time. It was just impractical more than anything else. We were all playing best of one so as to get the matches in.

So, the crossroads I am at is simply the poker direction or the chess direction. Do I carry on with my original design premise and make the most balanced and skill intense format that has long dry chess like games. Or do I veer back towards Wizards and try and create more all in situations, more risk, shorter games, more fun...

Ultimately I have overshot and regardless of how far back I ultimately track, some backtracking will be done. The main focus is on the search for fun cards and so I can certainly start that process in the realms of the cards I deem to still be good design and balanced. Perhaps we will get lucky and find a sweet spot. We can reassess then. Certainly I will also be trying a mashup cube at some point with both my main and homemade in action. See if we (Wizards and I) can combine efforts to reach that sweet spot. I certainly prefer my games on the consistent side of things but I think I am much more that way than the average. I am better served by making the homemade cube what my player base want more so than just what I want. And that isn't even taking into account practical considerations like game length. It seems foolish to just make my cube a somewhat copy of things that already exist, but equally, it seems stupid to intentional keep something less fun or less practical for the sake of principle. Regardless, the sweet spot, for me or my playgroup, is going to be somewhere between the main cube and the current state of the homemade cube, and I look forward to the slow meandering journey over the next couple of years trying to find it!

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Trample vs Flying


A mate offhandedly said "trample is the best ability on a threat" the other day, as if that was obvious. He meant of the more reasonable combat abilities rather than things like hexproof and indestructible. Even so, intuitively I value flying more, and this is reasonable when you consider lower cost cards. Trample is a scaling ability and at its best on bigger dorks, being of little to no value as the creature's power tends to zero. Most magic is played at smaller mana costs and so on average flying is worth quite a bit more than trample. As are things like first strike and menace. He was right though. There is a point at which trample is going to be getting more done towards closing out a game than flying is. This is obviously going to have to be a discussion about averages as there will be every context under sun where trample on the smaller dork is better than flying on the bigger etc. That all in mind however, trample can't be chumped, it has to be met with toughness. You can't so easily shut off combat damage triggers and things like lifelink on a dork with trample. Give a trample guy deathtouch and it is about as scary as it gets. So, simple question, on average, at what power value trample better than flying?

It is a bit of a loaded question really as ever is the case in magic. Even if we are averaging across all games and all matchups it is still both format dependant and affected by the toughness. For simplicity we will just consider X/X dorks where toughness equals power. This is somewhat the norm. For a rough rebalance when considering lopsided dorks, I would tend towards flying as toughness gets lower than power. On a 4/3 flying might be worth more than trample, while on a 4/5 it might be the other way round for example. There is also the general consideration that flying has defensive capacities and trample does not. This means in slower decks there is absolutely added utility in those fliers. My mate did however stipulate "threat", which means you are hoping to close the game out with it rather than stall. Threat also implies big, which is how his statement could be so simple and yet so casually accurate. 

(Amazed this Sphinx is the closest I could find to a vanilla 5/5 flier for 6!)

So, with all those caveats out the way, when is trample better than flying on a threat? I can only speak to the various cubes I have played but it is around the five power mark. On average slightly above I would say, like 5.5 or something meaningless like that. I think however it is the case that a few outliers, specifically against green where you are preferring a flyer to a trampler quite some way up the power curve.  As such, I think if you disregard green and then consider again then my estimate of 5.5 drops to somewhere below 5 power at which trample is on average better on your threat. Anyone else with any differing ideas on when the crossover happens, or anything further to add on the matter I would be interested to hear. Beyond that, this is a mercifully short article. I have slapped down an opinion on what I think the number is for that cross over point, which is five or a bit over that if we are allowed fractions, but I can't really justify it or demonstrate it, it is simply a feeling based on experience. 

Tuesday 23 January 2024

An Ode to Giant Spider

As we all know power creep has hit magic pretty hard, with creatures being the most notably and consistently affected. Most pre-modern dorks are a joke compared to post modern ones, and most modern dorks are pretty pathetic by the standards of those in the last five years. The list of dorks that have been best, or like top 3 in cube, and then gone on to be cut because they are not good enough is real long. No spell on the other hand has been top 3 in any category then gone on to get cut for lack of power with the possible exception of Fact or Fiction.  

Now, Giant Spider has never been in the cube, but it has had many things supporting its iconic 2/4 reach body. I have had opportunity to see how this sized body performs over the years and it is frankly kind of baffling. It is somehow a card that has never been good as such, or at least never broken or over powered, while never being bad either. No one is complaining about the egregious Giant Spider! The weird part is that is doesn't seem to get much worse over time. That 2/4 reach body just puts in a good shift of work. I have splashed in limited seal deck just for Giant Spider (M10 or M11 I believe and it was just the ticket!)

The more I try and understand why the Spider is so static in regards the effects of power creep the more I feel as if it must be because the Spider is like the fulcrum, the bar, the tipping point, of sorts. If you think of the dorks in Alpha that are good it is Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon that jump out. If you think of the creatures that are bad, then it is almost everything else (as threats at least). What to the Angel and Dragon have in common? They trump a Spider. What does everything else do? Match up pretty poorly against Spider. Certainly everything at or below the mana value of Spider in Alpha is at least held by Spider. Move on to Arabian Nights and the best dorks there are Juzzam and Ernham Djinns, both of which can match the Spider. A trend!

It is that really defensive lean that makes Spider such a fair tipping point. It is hard to get past the card and thus provides a bar to get over for offensive threats, but being so defensively weighted itself it does not represent much threat and thus cannot really ever stretch into the realm of broken. It is decent on defence yes, but you can't overly leverage that because the card neither provides tempo nor value. A card like Wall of Omens is a far more useful control tool as it still does some defensive work, and while it is no where near the defensive strength of the Spider, it did cost half the mana and no cards! Giant Spider is a seemingly simple and unassuming card that is yet somehow one of the most enigmatic and well balanced creatures in the whole game. Like the eye of a storm, funny things can happen dead centre. Spider is a card that sees little to no play outside of limited and yet still feels as if it has had relevant effect on the meta. 

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Homemade Cube Second Print Run Spoilers


As promised here are the spoilers for the new cards printed for the Homemade Cube project. I am just posting the new stuff here rather than the cards I rebalanced from the first printing, I'll stick them in a later post. The cards in this post fall into roughly three groups. There are those cards I made to solve problems and these make up the bulk of the cards. There are a lot of meatier and top of curve threats, a bunch of mana sinks, and a load of incentives towards playing mono colour decks in this group. Next up are the experiments where I am toying with mechanics. A lot of these cards were produced as a learning experience rather than with the intent to have them last in the cube. This group includes the catch-up cards and a lot of the cost reduction mechanic cards. Lastly we just have my continuation of designing stuff as it was from the original printing. I slightly upped the complexity and toyed with things like fortifications and adventure cards while trying to incorporate as many aspects of the game and mechanics as possible. The cards are arranged by colour rather than these groups however so you will have to do that bit for yourselves!

I was rather sloppier with these new cards taking less care to balance them and with less attention given to things like naming and proof reading! Mostly I think this is a response to realizing it is a lot less effort to fix and reprint thins than it is to get it right first time and it all helps with the learning. Most of these new cards will either get reprinted for some tweak or just cut directly. There was a really low hit rate on the experiment cards with almost none of them appealing nor meriting any work "fixing". Of the other cards there is just plenty to tone down and fix. Turns out the best way to test cards is by playing them and the best way to get cards seeing play is to print them and to print them on the powerful side of things. 

Despite the sloppiness of these new cards they are doing the trick and the homemade cube is playing very much like how I wanted it to. The balance is decent and the "problems" I am now fixing with the third iteration of cards are few and small. All in all things are very well on track and going better than expected on all fronts. Here are the new cards we have been playing with and testing for the last seven weeks now roughly. 

New Green


New Red


New Black






Rest Of New Stuff 


Thursday 11 January 2024

Homemade Cube Part 15: Update


This is basically now just a blog diary of the homemade cube progress and is much more of a thing for me than anyone else. As such, only those that are interested in following the design process of this project are going to get much out of reading more here. I have had my second dose of new cards for coming up a couple of months now. I will upload the full spoilers of this second pile of new cards soon. 

We are in the sweet spot time window for testing these new cards and the changed meta, where you have a good idea of the situation but there is still plenty to learn and root out. It is no longer the blind fumbling about stage, but it remains a long way from being any kind of solved as a format. This dose of extra cards was about 200 new card designs aimed at solving issues, and about 200 revisions to old cards, of which nearly half were just aesthetics or grammar. Of the 100 or so rebalanced cards almost all were nerfs. There was the odd buff and the odd rework but for the most part things needed toning down. Turns out I am very good at knowing what I need to add to a card to make it playable, but not so good at knowing where to stop to keep it fair. This is of no surprise given I spent over a decade searching for cards that reach a minimum of power level rather than those not exceeding a maximum. It is also kind of useful as far as problems go. In order to test a card one has to play it. A card too weak is hard to spot and takes a lot longer to do so as you are spotting it by an absence of action. Consequently having not seen much of the card you have no idea why it is bad or by how big of a margin. At least if a card is too good you get a good idea of why quickly, and can then cut it if it is being oppressive. 

I had managed to get the size of the cube down to about 600 before the new cards hit. Wanting to keep it below 720 cards I did some fairly aggressive culling. Mostly just boring stuff that was fine but well understood. I have strongly felt that a 540 cube was a near optimal size for quite some time now but it turns out this is somewhat specific to the context of a cube using the real pool of magic cards and the bottlenecks and power gradients found therein. If you make a power gradient less steep and widen bottlenecks the size of your cube can expand as much as you like. There are some perks to larger sizes but on the whole I think closer to enough is better than way more, mostly just from a logistical point of view. A smaller cube is an easier shuffle and sort etc. It is also more accessible to newer players. With this in mind I didn't add all the new cards at once and drip fed additions in along side cutting things to keep size down. I am running a little below 680 at present and would like to get that closer to 600 in time but I am not in much of a rush and no longer think it is relevant to aim at 540 as before. Practically I think I am going to try and settle on 612 as that is largest single order print size the company I am using prints to. That means it is going to be nice and convenient to get a whole working cube printed off in one go and will make for a cool gift to a couple of mates.

The new cards, while a long way off the quality of the first lot, have done the job at solving the issues I was having with the format to begin with. There is now enough top end power and games are ending more consistently within a reasonable time frame. The first go was good, we got closer than I was expecting to the mark, but it was still only about 80% of the way there. This new batch seems to have gotten us to over 90% of where I was hoping to get to. As such the third shot at new cards and reworks/rebalancing should take us to over 95% which I am more than happy calling a finished product. I'll be able to cull to the best 612 once I have had testing on the third release. Any changes from that testing can be implemented on those 612 best and then I can consider it a completed project. The main upshot of all this is that once completed I will stop going on about it quite so much! I will likely do a bit of tinkering and add a few new ideas and tweaks in over the years from that point but it will not be taking all my attentions and will not dominate what ever remains of the blog by that point!

Testing windows will be increasingly long. The first lot only took a couple of months to identify the issues, and then no more than a couple more to have done enough design work to feel like they might be solved, this time round it is about half the pace, and so I don't expect to be in any place to make the third order until summer this year, and from then it is likely going to be winter again before I am settled on a final 612 and that final load of cards are sufficiently tested. Assuming that prediction is on point it means it will have taken about 18 months to turn over about a thousand cards. Much as that feels impressive given the small scale of the operation, it does not feel repeatable. This first go is milking years of idle thoughts on the matter that subsequent efforts cannot lean on. 

There is also a good chance the Art Cube project concludes within this time frame and puts it on hold for a while. We are now at about 900 cards (I was aiming at 1000 before we do a pre-print cull, although I now want more like 1200), and I am at around 80% viewed of the artists I was wanting to look through. As such there is every chance this is something I print before the summer. I am not even going to predict how long it might remain in the limelight for. Disregarding the Art set however I think we are looking at three or so months of testing where we are now, a month in limbo while we wait for the third and final big order, then a good six months of testing that.

There are a bunch of cards I already changed once and have now deemed they need a second change. Typically these have been the more complicated cards like the Class cards which just have more moving parts to understand and balance. I reckon if I can't get a card right in 3 attempts it is probably best to move on. That being said, we are still finding typos from the initial print run, cards that have been played repeatedly. There was an Edict called Edit and a Yavimaya card spelled Yayimaya that we only just spotted last time we played. Both great cards seeing a lot of play and both there since the beginning. I also have some vey literate and pedantic friends who have been pretty eagle eyed at spotting other errors. All that to say I expect these sneaky subtle errors will outlast any balance issues there might be on cards! 

My design objectives have morphed a little now. I was aiming for clean, simple, balanced cards in open design space in the beginning. I wanted to represent every aspect of the game. Now I am far more focused on making every card a card that increases the fun of the format. It was almost over balanced, over fixed, to the point games were too long, a little too taxing on the brain, and a perhaps even a little dry like chess. Effectively I overshot my goal and discovered things I didn't know about Magic and game design. The new Holy Grail of design for me is maximum fun. The first printing got a really nice framework of core set style cards with which to build upon with more fun, interesting, and complicated cards. I am in fact now working on some double sided cards. Much as I find them a bit overly complex and a bit of a phaff to play with it turns out that some of the most beloved cube cards are flip cards. If ones goal is to make the most fun format then it would seem remiss to exclude flip cards. It is mildly concerning as flip cards are more complex, with more moving parts, and I have clearly demonstrated to myself that those are the types of cards I am worst at designing. Further to that I have had almost no experience of playing with battles and so I expect my designs for those to be even more off the mark.

Speaking of card types I have not played with the fortifications I designed have been interesting. They are like little land equipment. I had about three times as many designed as I actually printed off and tested but I was so unsure about them I kept it to the most appropriate of the bunch to start with, the ones I was more confident of being viable. Mostly those have been a success and with what has been learned from them I hope to bring a couple more into the fold.

Companions are a card type I am working really hard on. They are super fine lines as far as balancing goes but that isn't so much the issue. It is really all about making them fun, something people want to build around. I had both playable and unplayable companions but some of those playable ones did not excite and that was an issue. Companions in a cube setting allow you to tie together some narrower elements. They let you draft a synergy deck more viably as you will always have part of your tool kit available. As such I have tried to lean into this and allow otherwise overly synergy based narrow archetypes to exist as supported by a fun companion. Turns out there is a lot to say about companions and this is already an overly long article so perhaps they get a segment of their own. All sorts of quirky things unique to them crop up, like, a companion can be boring because of how you have to build to include it as well as the effect it has on the game. I managed some of both of those! I also managed to make some companions that support the correct cool narrow archetype in a colour pair but then failed to correctly offer the required support. I changed the green white companion into an enchantment based one which was great, but then I made it a value tool rather than a reach tool and consequently no one ever played it because it was either no use or total overkill. 

As far as the meta goes, I am quite happy with it. I would call it a format of Anthems and Wraths as they seem to be the two effects that dominate when trying to pin point the cause of a win. There are still areas to improve upon but I would no longer say there are problems that need to be fixed, which is probably a big part of why the testing and revision phase is slowing up, there is less urgency. 

Control is a little stronger than I would like but it isn't dominating. The format could use a few more things that are awkward to control, and that can then lead to a victory. I have plenty of the former but it isn't getting the job done quite so well as it is rarely also the latter. Planeswalkers are no longer busted but they are still generally among the top end of the power range. Decks that are slower and more controlling are best placed to leverage them, as well as the Wraths, which in turn trump the anthem based builds, and that is all feeding into this mild imbalance. I also gave blue a bit too much meat for the board, a few too many efficient dorks with a lot of stats. This let blue really leverage its control cards and throw its weight around. The colour really needs the limitation of being a bit thin and outclassed on the board. Blue was the weakest colour prior to the second printing, now it is the second strongest. Luckily it is not out by much at all, and by less than my normal cubes are typically too! 

The card draw side of things is very much where I want it to be. It is hard to run out of stuff to spend your mana on in most decks which is precisely what I was hoping for. Moving beyond the specifics of Wraths and Anthems there is a really obvious correlation between winning and mana development. There is high demand on the mana rocks and ramp, with green likely being the best performing colour, simply because access to more mana over time has strongly tended towards winning. Most decks are making most of their land drops too, all the way past turn six. The sub 16 land format I predicted has not come to pass but it is not too far off. If the threats were as they are in the normal cube but had the support and value mine offers then it might well be a 14/15 land format. The thing is that with games going longer and good value on offer, even the cheaper and more aggressive decks wish to carry on deploying land for quite some time. It feeds off itself as well. The more value you have, clues to crack etc, the more lands you want to deploy to do so, and in doing so, you draw more cards and with them more lands thus fuelling those extra drops. A 16 land deck in my cube typically feels like a 19 land deck in my normal cube in terms of being able to drop a land consistently each turn well past the midgame. 

Much as the new injection of cards solved the teething problems I was finding with the format it is very noticeably lower quality in terms of design. I spend ages preening through the cards in the first release and tried to make it as near perfect as I could. By the time the second lot were out I appreciated how easy it will be to amend mistakes, and how often I would likely be making more cards and really lowered the bar on my output. I was happy just churning out cards I knew were off on power level or a bit sloppy on design because I wanted to test them, see quite how out they are and the effects that had. You can learn more from a mistake after all!

A lot of the top end I made to ease that bottleneck was a little pushed, as was a lot of the stuff aimed at boosting mono coloured strategies. The latter has not proved a problem with the cards being fun and well received and bringing the mono decks to roughly where we want them. They were rather underperforming before hand. The mana sinks all over performed as well but this was down to my failing to appreciate game length difference. If things speed up a little such cards will cease to be issues and so I don't feel presently like I need to directly address them.

A bunch of the new cards are just not playing all that well. The catch-up mechanic doesn't feel nice and is a bit confusing. Some of the more pushed cards have been nearing oppressive on occasion on the old power level side of things. The heavy handed "fixes" didn't have the desired affect at all such as the sparkhunter cards as a knee-jerk reaction to the initial potency of the walkers. Going forward I will take a much more gentle and gradual approach to solving issues and I will tackle these problems at both ends at one rather than just hitting the one end real hard and hoping it works out! Overall I expect only about 20-25% of the new designs to remain in the finished cube which is a really low take up. This is especially impressive given how clearly the power level had raised between the two sets of cards. Despite having complained about power creep for so long I immediately went and did it myself and worse! Luckily I am still in the testing phase and can rein in the things that went too far. 

The main takeaway here is that things are going well, the project is really fun, much more illuminating that I had anticipated, being enjoyed by my whole group and not just me, and likely looking to be the main way we cube going forwards. Despite the relatively sloppy, careless and rushed second batch of cards and their low take-up rate they have done the required job and we are very happy playing a format with no issues and that we all have rather more agency than before to improve as we see fit.