The Cube, According to Gatherer, Part Seven – Two Cubes? No One Said Nothing About Two Cubes…
In the comments section of Part Four, Abe Sargeant happened upon my blog and wanted to try his hand at making his own Gatherer Cube. I gave him my blessing, because of course I did. Gatherer is an amazing tool. The more people who use it, the richer we all become.
Sargent is a smart man. He writes M:tG articles weekly, and the process of designing cards is too great a restraint on his writing regiment. So he elected to choose existing Magic cards to pair with the cards Gatherer randomly generates. Sometimes, I wish I chose that path too. I know there’s been a few times that a random card popped, and I knew the perfect card to pair with it, but couldn’t because that card already exists.
Also, without the constraints of design, and endless slaving over the idiosyncrasies of card syntax, he’s moving at a faster clip than I. His first article, which you can read here, piled through about 45 cards. I’m not sure whether this log will drop first, or if Sargent will beat me to it, but both will soon be up, and we’ll be even at 90 cards apiece. He’s bound to blast past me, which is fine. He’s going to experience all the problems of stitching his cube together first, and I get to ride behind him learning from his choices.
I also find it (is it possible to be mildly fascinated? Let’s say it is.) mildly fascinated by how much sway those first few random cards dictate the direction of the entire cube. Sargent’s first three picks, Eyeblight’s Ending, Sublime Exhalation and Goblin Legionnaire dictated much toward the forty-two cards that came after them. I’m interested in seeing how dedicated he stays with his initial ideas, and if, and how often, he needs to drop his plans for something else entirely.
Okay, enough examining someone else’s Cube. Back to this one. I poked Gatherer, and it poked me back with…
This cube includes giant dinosaurs, so mana acceleration is welcome. Those dinosaurs are incredigood, so poor acceleration is ideal. Hey, Animist’s Awakening! Have I got a job for you!
Let’s crunch numbers, shall we? Most Magic decks average around 40% land, or two lands for every five cards. To make two lands with Awakening, on average, you must pay . Six mana reveals five cards, two of which are probably lands. Yes, it’s possible to hit the jackpot with Awakening, netting five lands for six mana. But you mulligan to five on occasion, right? How often do you draw five cards and get all land? How often do you draw five cards and get no land? I’m guessing the second schenario is more likely. While it’s exciting to flip five lands, a complete whiff hurts that much more.
Assuming you only run basics, Explosive Vegetation does the job for less. Heck, even with Spell Mastery turned on, Explosive Vegetation is the better option since the ‘cost’ might be the same, but Combustible Sprouts fetches the land you want. I suppose you also have the option to cast Awakening for . But it’s so risky I’d only do it in an emergency, or if the potential reward was incredible. Likewise, you could cast Awakening for or more. You probably don’t need more than two lands if you already control seven. But sure, it’s an option.
Awakening is better with non-basic lands. It gets much, much better if you can guarantee at least one land on top. Battle Alacrity from log six wouldn’t mind the deck manipulation, either. Sounds like good space to design into. My first thought was to make an Index variant. But Blue already features card draw and manipulation. And with Battle Alacrity kicking around, I wondered what a red Index might look like.
The Redactrix doesn’t let you draw into the perfect card. It nudges you in a direction, offering a chance to get what you want with no guarantees. If you see two lands out of five cards, and Awakening is in hand, dump the non-land cards and shuffle the lands with three random cards from the top of your library. When you Awaken, there will hopefully be an increase in your deck top land density.
Originally, this was a one mana instant, but I figured most players wouldn’t play that, like they tend not to draft and play Index. So I made this card a ‘Sage Owl‘, trading flying for first strike. Red needs more creatures to sacrifice anyway.
Love me some Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore. I thought of pulling Evil Eye of Urborg off the shelf, since those cards were made for each other. But unlike other cards I pulled forward, Orms-by-Gore doesn’t require Urborg. They simply make a clever pair. Could I design another interesting card to pair with this Eye?
At first blush, Righteous Eye’s drawback doesn’t look like one. Who cares if the rest of your creatures can’t block? Righteous Eye can do all the blocking for you, at least for one round! Unfortunately, the Righteous Eye can’t block evasive creatures. Flying is a mystery. The only way for Righteous Eye to block a creature with Menace would require controlling both Eyes. And if your opponent sandbags a Pacifism… well, good luck.
I tend to avoid designing cards that can backfire more often than a car with a weak fuel pump, causing a severe lean air-to-fuel ratio during fuel injection (What? Like you don’t use Wikipedia in your job?) And there’s some serious color pie bend going on. But… you know… If the Evil Eye is okay, then so is the Righteous one.
After weeks of drawing expensive, district shaking blockbusters out of Gatherer, it’s nice to draw an expensive sparkler. Wit’s End can be devastating if rushed out, or against certain control match-ups, or when used in conjunction with end-of-turn-instant-speed-mass-bounce. But in many games, Wit’s End will be a seven cost Mind Rot.
I suppose I could design a bounce spell to combo with Bolas’ victory speech. But in response to Hythonia the Cruel in log six, I said I would only design a card that accelerates to the end game on the heels of an expensive weak card. I guess Wit’s End is that. I’m not in the mood for making things too easy, though.
Trailblazer Jackal continues the theme of creatures that like to be sacrificed. On the surface, it’s a lean 3/2 for three mana that trashes an artifact for five, while washing and refunding three. If you find another way to sacrifice the Jackal, however, you can ramp. With Research Leader from log two, for example, the Jackal mills 1, scries 1, and adds for . It’s not a perfect ritual, but the Jackal should be perfect in the right deck.
For its next trick, Gatherer randomly generated Kabira Vindicator, a 1st-level paladin that gets a new Glorious Anthem theme song every time it gains enough experience to Level Up into a milestone. The set already includes a counters theme, and I’m always interested in getting extra value out of my cards. [I don’t know why the font on the Level Up frame went back to MSE’s original non-copyrighted font. I’ll fix it in post.]
If sacrificing creatures in Red is a thing, then we need more incidental creatures. For , Rankmaster provides a 2/2 and a 1/1, with the option to snag two more Gobos if you value your investment. I guess it also works well with Kabira Vindicator. I’m down for some Saint Motel.
There are no creatures in real Magic that trigger an ability when they level up. Seems like a missed opportunity. Considering all the counters floating around this guy, it’s nice to be able to answer “It’s a 2/2” when your opponent asks, “So what is that thing anyway?”
Time for a new card! Gatherer, give me a real game changer!
No single card we design can make Aven Envoy a great card on its own. But we can work towards a strategy that synergizes with the Envoy. One that takes advantage of its two solid creature types, for example, like Aven Brigadier. Or we could create two-cost auras and/or equipment with commando abilities that trigger when the embiggened creature deals combat damage to an opponent. But I got another idea in mind. Let’s make the Envoy good just because it’s a one-cost blue creature.
Because previously in log six, Gatherer gave me this card:
In response, I made Juice the Drones, an instant that creates two token creatures. As I mentioned earlier in the article, I responded to Kingfisher by designing this card:
Which also plays well with Juice the Drones. What if Blue doesn’t care if its creatures are any good? What if Blue just wants to throw a cheap pile of creatures on the board?
This strategy is a departure from traditional Blue. Certainly, one of Blue’s strategies is a good-old fashioned fish deck, in which Blue rushes a couple solid early creatures, follows through with a string of counterspells, and bounces opposing defenses while the ‘fish’ nibble the opponent to death. This isn’t supposed to be that. This deck is only interested in establishing the illusion of victory. The faster it happens the better.
Here’s the problem: According to the color pie, Blue thumbs its nose at this strategy. Throwing a lot of creatures on the board is something Green does. Throwing a lot of cheap creatures on the board is something White does. White and Green get pumped over this strategy, but both Black and Red indulge in cheap creature hordes as well. Blue, meanwhile, traditionally enjoys non-permanents spell strategies, with the occasional artifact. A common Blue strategy is to drop a single big creature and expend all its resources to protect that one creature.
So while I’m eager to explore this theme, I know Blue needs a philosophical excuse as to why it would hang out with a the Junkyard Gang and the Catillac Cats. We can find that in Unified Will’s text:
“Counter target spell if you control more creatures than that spell’s controller.”
Blue doesn’t want to put as many creatures as possible on the battlefield. It only aims to employ more creatures than its opponent. If a game of Magic is best won by he who is showing the most resources, then Blue wants to show its preeminence by establishing superior numbers, then stop. Any more would be a waste.
That plan works well with Research Leader too, since he engages early to establish above normative creature count. But as the game ensues, and Blue leads with authority, Blue can recycle its errant resources for superior draws. And while Aven Envoy continues to be a miserable card, it plays into Blue’s need to put any miserable creature on the battlefield early. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it furthers the agenda.
We haven’t seen any Control Magic-type spells, and this seems like a good time. By tying these two mechanics together, you can solidify your creature lead by increasing your creature count by one, while decreasing your opponent’s count. The ability to control your opponent’s enchantment is a tack on, admittedly. I didn’t want this card to cost less than four, but I also didn’t want Control Magic to be strictly better*. There’s a reason why Steal Enchantment is the cheapest of the type-stealing auras. This might change to steal the Planeswalker type if Gatherer pushes forward a couple.
Okay, Gatherer, what else you got for me?
Haha! That’s not a spell! I know what we do with those! We veto…
Hmm… wait a second. Maybe we don’t veto tokens. They don’t need to go into packs, but we could still put them in the cube box, and use them. Maybe Gatherer handed me a gift by giving me permission to design any card that uses some number of Thrull tokens.
Which works well for me, since thrulls play into both Blue and Red’s strategy. Both of those colors need flesh fuel, but they also tend to get the least number of creatures in any set. It’s nice to see their common ally, Black, pick up the slack.
Did you know that Thrulls are “creatures animated from dead flesh,” and, “the process of creating thrulls is much different from animating the undead, as thrulls are actually living creatures.” [source] They have a lot more in common with Frankenstein’s Monster than they do with your run of the mill zombie. I don’t think any one card ever spelled that out. A number of flavorful cards muddle this genesis. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in that Breeding Pit and I don’t care to know.
One more card for the day! Let’s see what we get…
This is problematic.
Gatherer already gave me Stone Quarry in log four, and I took that opportunity to move four other non-basic enemy lands from its cycle into the box. I knew chances were good Gatherer would feed me a superior two-colored non-basic land at some point. But I hoped it would be from one of the more common ally cycles. Instead, I got an enemy land from the most powerful dual-land cycle in the game: a tri-land.
And yes, I’m aware that Shock Lands and Fetches are Modern tournament staples while Tri-Lands are not. You can keep them. They are never Pack one, Pick one. Seaside Citadel can be. Admittedly, you opened a bad pack if Seaside Citadel is your first pick in a Shards of Alara booster, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take a tri-land over three-fifths of the cards in that environment.
[I am reminded that I like money, and that taking Hallowed Fountain pays for the draft. Knowing this, I would first pick the Hallowed Fountain. I wouldn’t be happy about… oh who am I kidding? I’d be happy to sabotage my draft for a Shock Land bribe. Seaside Citadel is still the better card, though.]
Seaside Citadel makes Stone Quarry look like a pile of rubble. But… maybe I’m okay with this? Not every card in a draft needs to be of equal power level. We’re not crossing proton pack streams. There can be a third pick non-basic in the same pack as a seventh pick non-basic. We won’t experience life as we know it stopping, and every molecule in our bodies exploding at the speed of light: total protonic reversal. In fact, it probably makes the draft experience more interesting by including both options.
Except… well, I can’t pull forward 4-9 cards from a cycle every time I hit a non-basic land. It wouldn’t take long for this cube to choke on lands. I could make a strong Black/Red dual as the Citadel’s foil. But maybe that’s a bad idea too. There’s a fair chance more non-basics are coming down the line, and I don’t know how powerful, or what colors they will be. It’s probably best if I respond to the non-basics late in the process so I can balance what I get, instead of constantly reacting to perceived imbalances.
The cube does need one final three-color card in Green-White-Blue, though. Seems as good a time as any to make it.
I don’t like to see complicated mechanics like Level Up exist in a vacuum, so I added another. The goal, as with the other shard cards, is to design something that can be played in mono-white, but is better if you can access its allies. I wanted to keep this card simple, so for level 1 I used the only evergreen keyword that Blue and Green shares. Technically, they also share flash. Somehow that didn’t seem like an astute choice…
Untapping all creatures you control doesn’t combo with anything in particular right now. I’m sure it will be broken later. My spider-sense is tingling. I know that combo pieces and untargetability can be a caustic combination. But the Caretaker takes time to set up. Something to keep in mind going forward.
Ninety-Five cards and a token! That brings us to the one quarter point. Check out the next chapter to see the Cube get its driver’s license and register for the draft. In the meantime, maybe you’d like to check out the According to Gatherer Archives? I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t.