The Cube According to Gatherer, Part Five – The Quest for Good Ass
Suddenly, I became a rock star.
My new Audio Drama, Say Hello to Black Jack, dropped, resulting in an eye-popping one hundred and fifty downloads in the first week alone. I am a golden god. It’s no wonder why the Cube According to Gatherer was tossed aside as so much excess ballast. Following my wild success, I went on a one week global tour-de-force, promoting the podcast to every manga, and audio drama news agency, as well as trolling the depths of the Internet to find the last remnants of 2005’s podcast directory underground.
In all seriousness, you should head over to sayhellotoblackjack.com and check it out. Say Hello to Black Jack is an award winning manga written by Shuho Sato. Five years ago, Sato announced his work was now royalty free, and anyone could use it for whatever purpose they deemed fit. I totally jumped on top of that (albeit, after three years not knowing about it, and two years knowing. It was a very enthusiastic jump in slow motion.) The transition between a pure visual format and a pure audio format was a challenge, but it was also a lot of fun. And since Sato’s writing is tight, all my best efforts could only make the show slightly unpleasant, at worst!
Enough of the self-promotion! Continuing from our work way back in log one, I’m building a custom cube by hitting the random button in Gatherer, then designing a card to make the random cards fit. Punching the random button this week, I got:
This is Bad Ass from the set Unhinged. It’s not real. Maybe. Unhinged is a joke set. Cards from this set rock a silver border, which signifies it isn’t legal for anything, ever. But it’s still an official Magic: the Gathering card printed by Wizards of the Coast. Gatherer wouldn’t spit up this monstrosity otherwise.
Most cards from Unhinged must be vetoed. I’m no stick in the mud. On the contrary, I like to see people enjoy the unexpected while playing. The problem with Un-cards is that they’re packed with jokes. And repeated jokes grow old. Growling when you regenerate Bad Ass may be fun, at first. But when the joke is played out, some player will inevitably ask to stop growling. And since I abide by international laws set forth by the Geneva convention, I don’t torture captive players.
If players aren’t playing a card as it’s written, why add that card to the cube? I was on the verge of kicking this ass to the curb, when my paradigm shifted. Instead of enforcing growling as a cost, what if I redefined the word “Grr” as “the act of regenerating Bad Ass”. So when you attack into Bad Ass, the opponent can tap two lands and say “I grr.” Instead of something extra you must do, growling is now an economical timesaver.
While reformatting the card, I made ‘Grrr’ an ability word. It’s now a definition, not a requirement. Technically, that’s a functional change. But unlike whistling, I assume everyone I ever play against can growl, so we can skip it. Unless I’m playing against someone who is missing a voice box? I suppose they could use sign language to growl, though. I wonder what that looks like?)
When designing a card to compliment Bad Ass, I was compelled by this ass’s bottom: its flavor text.
He wanders the land in search of Good Ass.
Clearly, we need a mythical ass that won’t quit.
The self-exiling trick explains why Bad Ass can never find Good Ass, no matter how hard he tries. Not only is Bad Ass flummoxed by increasingly unlikely missed encounters, but his angelic foil always returns to the battlefield, gaining its controller three life, and rebutting almost as much as the ass assassin assaulted. Sweet bunnery punnery!
But why almost neutralize the attack? Why not gain the full three-point-five? There’s an aesthetic pull toward patterning matching numbers. But there are two reasons why we can’t let this card be half-assed. First, the set is flush with a ‘gain 3 life’ theme. If we tacked half a life here, the two cards may jive more as a unit, but there would be a serious lack of jivocity with the set.
Second, if we want to keep the Bad / Good Ass narrative intact, then there must be an incentive for Bad Ass to attack. Halfsies ain’t much, but it’s enough to turn a Donkey sideways. That’s more fun than super donkey staredown showdown (Note to self: Design ‘Super Donkey Staredown Showdown’. Some sort of Western themed MMO, populated by donkey gunslingers?”)
Another lucky grab from Gatherer. The cube already features a Suicide Black theme, and this fits like a well-worn noose.
When Lacerator first appeared, many players referred to ten or less life as being ‘bloodied’. The term was originally coined for the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which triggered character specific events when a player or a monster hit half health. It’s a cute idea for video game rpgs, but it kills the narrative mood at the table when players treat monsters like TPS reports requiring statistical analysis for quality assurance.
That said, Magic’s narrative remains in the background, and I like it when the game does different things at different life totals. Zendikar provided three cards which care about a player having ten life or less. The Lacerator, Guul Draz Vampire and Ruthless Cullblade. Before that, we had Lurking Jackals and… I guess Convalescence? Since then? Nothing. That’s a pity. Aiming to maneuver into a certain life total makes for a neat mini-game.
I was working on a card that punished bloodied opponents, but stumbled on this. Unsoul is a perfect kill card for Suicide Black, providing a cheap Murder to any player whose life total is ten or less. For everyone else, Unsoul asks an uncomfortable question: How much, exactly, are you willing to pay to kill that creature?
A classic. Gatherer was kind to me with the last two picks, delivering cards which could appear in almost any cube. As an added bonus, this is a second black card that triggers a ‘when you gain 3 life’ card. The cube is doing my work for me.
Consume Spirit encourages players to play mono-black. I’m a stinker, though. I like to see players squirm when presented with conflicting draft paths (also, the cube already features Naya, Jund, and Esper-ish cards. Time to add some Grixis love.)
Unfortunately, the cube is now flush with two cost black cards. I could cost the Flamekin more, but… nah. I like the idea, barring odd circumstances, that a player must take at least one damage for playing on the curve. I guess I need to adjust the other cards if I want this cost to stick.
Originally I wanted the Flamekin to force life loss if your life total was above ten and you didn’t control a Mountain, or if your life total was below ten and you didn’t control an Island. But that’s a lot of words, and a wee confusing. If a staple workhorse requires explanation, you’re doing it wrong.
Gatherer supplies an odd black answer to deal with artifacts from Antiquities. Even in 1994, Wizards staff knew not to give artifact destruction to Black. It’s a hole in the color’s defense. But inserting souls into kitchenware so you can Terrorize the beejeebies out of it? That’s fair, right?
No, not really. But Poltergeist makes for an interesting and unexpected change of strategy for Black, so I’m cool with it in the cube. Bonus points: Xenic Poltergeist is a Spirit. I don’t know if you noticed, but between Good Ass and Tethered Flamekin, I’m pushing Spirit tribal on my design. It’s nice to see themes pop up by accident.
My problem is that this set doesn’t currently feature artifacts. I dedicated a week to auras, and a week to counters, so there are plenty of enchantments and plus-one-plus-ones. There’s only one artifact, though. If Xenic Poltergeist was the first card I pulled this week, maybe this would be artifact week. Too late now, though.
To be honest, you don’t need many non-creature artifacts in your deck to make Xenic Poltergeist good. You only need a handful, but they must come with hefty converted mana costs if you want them to leave an impact. Since I’m unsure whether the cube will feature enough artifacts to appease the Poltergeist, I need to make sure there is at least one artifact in set that makes the Poltergeist pop.
I designed Bedizen Vanities by working backwards. To me, a converted mana cost of six seems ideal for animating, since it provides a solid power and toughness, but isn’t too unreasonable a cost. Ideally, said artifact features a keyword which makes sense on a non-creature/creature artifact. Indestructible fills that role.
So I designed a six-cost artifact that ‘needed’ to be indestructible. Vanities can double any spell for you. But it would suck if you Imprinted Shivan Dragon on the Vanities only for an opponent to Shatter the mirrors. Making the mirrors indestructible doesn’t prevent all the ways your opponent can ruin your best spell, but it prevents the most obvious solutions from letting you have your fun. And when you’re done, there’s a giant indestructible mirror left behind. How weird.
Another random card. This is an odd addition since, in the first log, I included a four-cost instant speed Relearn (with a little-self mill) called Upend Memories. While it may be awkward for the cube to feature two Relearns, I doubt there’s anything ‘wrong’ with it. That said, this set needs more instants and sorceries if I want Relearns to be relevant.
Admittedly, there are better cards to return turn after turn. But the cube could use a cheap bounce spell. And with four cards invested in whether an opponent controls a flying creature, Jump variants makes sense too. I combined them and added meteorology.
I swear, Gatherer gave me this card randomly. No really. I know how ridiculous that might sound, since this card combines three themes of the cube together in one card: Suicide Black, +1/+1 counters, and gaining life in increments of 3 at a time (playing this with the life gain deck effectively turns every three life gained into a +1/+1 counter.) But I assure you, I did not ‘force’ this card.
I probably never would have thought to force it anyway, since I didn’t like the card the first time around. Not because it’s a bad card (the rating on Gatherer is 3.203. Though, some of that is backed by the cackling glee of ‘infinite life’ players.) I don’t like how quickly this card ends games. The controller of a round two Grizzly Bears can pay fifteen life for five +1/+1 counters and swing for seven on round three. Between both players, the result is a loss of 21 life; more than half of the two players’ life totals combined. How long do you think that game will last?
But in this cube, meeting three of the set’s themes? It would be foolish of me to be anything but happy to include Unspeakable Symbol.
My first plan was to create the Symbol’s opposite. So I made a creature that traded +1/+1 counters to gain 3 life:
It seemed like a good idea at the time. I particularly liked how this card interacted with Unspeakable Symbol, letting players dump their life to put counters on the elf priestess, only to remove those counters at their leisure whenever an opponent dealt damage to them. A 10/10 on round five requiring a two card combo? Sure, why not.
Unfortunately, I forgot this card was in the file:
This was the first card I created for the cube (and with all this incidental life gain in the set so far, I’m starting to think I undershot his casting cost.) With the Harbinger and Priestess out, I can remove a counter from the Priestess to gain 3 life. Then the Harbinger puts a +1/+1 counter on all my creatures. Then I can remove a +1/+1 counter to gain 3 life, etc., etc.. The end result is infinite life, and an infinitely large army.
Insta-win with two cards is dumb. That said, I like the Priestess the way she is. I think the best thing to do is restrict the Harbinger to putting counters on white creatures. He’s still probably too good, but at least I’m less sure with this incarnation.
Maybe there’s a better way. I might come back to this in the future. For now, I’m fetching another random card from Gatherer and moving on.
Ha! No. I’m grateful for Planes, since they give me something to veto without feeling guilty. Let’s try again.
I’m either lucky with the random cards that Gather gave me this week, or a lying jackanapes. We previously established a theme of auras that wind up in the graveyard so they can be recalled to duty by Retether in log three. Gatherer threw me yet another bone.
While Floating Shield fits our set’s theme, it isn’t particularly powerful. Gatherer gives it a 2.618. Floating Shield is too expensive for too little an effect in constructed. In limited, however, with a limited number of answers, Floating Shield on a Rotting Fensnake can keep an entire army at bay. And as I mentioned, it aligns well with Retether. You probably shouldn’t build your deck around sacrificing this aura for protection from one color, Retethering for a second color and swinging with protection from two colors for a turn… but if that’s what it takes to win a game, then that’s what you do.
I figured it doesn’t hurt to make another graveyard-bound aura. And I haven’t designed many red cards. There’s a reason for that: Gatherer has yet to assign me many red cards. Red is currently the anti-flying color, but I can’t build Red’s strategy around that fact alone. Not knowing where Red will ultimately go, I tried my hand at an aura that followed Floating Shield’s lead: create a card that did one thing, then did it to something else if you sacrificed the enchantment.
Fourteen more cards down for a total of sixty-eight cards in the cube. Click here to read part six. Or you can check out the According to Gatherer archive to see if you’ve missed anything? Oh, yeah, and check out sayhellotoblackjack.com! After nine months of editing this monster, I’m almost not sick of it!