The Cube, According to Gatherer, Part 9 – And/Or Comedy Gold
Improv comedy is tough. Or it isn’t. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not a comic.
But let’s say it is, or it isn’t. You start with a premise. Your partner is already on stage and you come out to meet them, slapping your feet on the ground like flippers. That’s when you say, “Hey there, kiddo! It’s your ‘ole pal, Gorky the Clown!”
Man, this is possibly some difficult stuff.
Now your partner could say “Come on Walter, knock it off. You’re scaring the dogs.” Maybe that would get a laugh. But it would be wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!
Why? Because you’re confusing your audience. The laugh you get now would be at the expense of setting the scene, and at the expense of reaping better, future laughs. Is Gorky in a clown costume or not? Where are we? What are we doing here? You were about to establish a scene between a clown and (presumably) a child, and suddenly new information was tossed in and we’re back at square one. What if you followed that response with “I’m not Walter. You’re Walter. And you owe me two years alimony!” Again, potentially funny. But now we really confused the audience. This whole scene is headed toward disaster.
That’s why improv comics, when setting the scene, don’t say ‘No’ (either explicitly, or inferred.) Good improv comics say ‘Yes, and…” They agree with what their partner said to help solidify the scene. Then they add details. And, if their partner is also good, that partner will also say “Yes, and…” adding yet more details, building on that scene and creating a little world. Usually, they don’t say the exact words “Yes, and….” That’s implied. But when you march on stage and deliver your line:
“Hey there, kiddo! It’s your ‘ole pal, Gorky the Clown!”
You can expect your partner to say something like…
“Oh man! I love balloon animals! Do you do balloon animals!”
“I brought you a box of cigars, Gorky. Can I run away with the circus?”
Congratulations, you passed day one of improv class. That might have been a real challenge.
The “Yes, and…” trick borders on common knowledge, so there’s a good chance you knew that stuff. But if you spend an entire scene building on a scene, then you will never have a scene. You’ll only ever have an incredibly well-established setting. At some point, you need to find what makes this particular scene unique; what makes it funny. And when you do that, you need to switch from “Yes, and…” to “If, then…”
For example, what if Gorky says he can make balloon animals, but he can only make balloon swords. Each time the kid asks for a new balloon animal, Gorky twists a bunch of imaginary balloons together and… yet another sword. The child gets more and more frustrated, and Gorky tries to cheer the kid up, and does so by announcing he will make an even more exotic balloon animal… and makes another sword.
At this point, we’re beyond discovering the who, what, and where of the scene. We’re now discovering the unique thing, or ‘The Game’, and we’re digging on that rich vein for all the comedy gold we can plunder. ‘If’ Gorky can only make balloon swords, ‘then’ the child gets frustrated. ‘If’ the child gets frustrated, ‘then’ Gorky tries to compensate by making a balloon sword. ‘If’ the child sees the new sword and starts to cry, ‘then’ Gorky claims the child is a philistine and doesn’t recognize true art. And so on, and so on.
Why am I mentioning such challenging or not improv concepts in a Cube blog?
When I first designed cards for this cube in log one, I was in ‘Yes, and’ mode. A card that gains a player life when it’s cast? Yes, and a creature that triggers an ability when life is gained. Behemoth’s Herald? Yes, and let’s add Godsire, and why not add some other creatures for the Herald to find?
Now that we’re past the one quarter point, we can expect to see less ‘Yes, and…’ and a lot more ‘If, then…” Not every mechanic in the set is settled, but many have taken shape. I’m getting past the point where I want to discover the who, what, and where of this set. I can feel where this cube is going, and now it’s my job to stop responding to individual cards, and begin responding to patterns. For example, if the Gatherer random button ships me Dearly Departed, then what do I do?
Sometimes, the cards Gatherer tosses my way are so on point, I’d suspect myself of cheating if I wasn’t me. Dearly Departed is a Spirit that benefits Humans. Those are the only two tribes supported in my set, and this card hits both of them. Absurd. I’d run out and buy a lottery ticket, but with my ironic luck everyone else would hit the jackpot, while I got struck by lightning.
The Departed is powerful. The Boston accents were a little too on the nose, but who could forget that scene with Damon and DiCaprio on the roof? Crazy. Dearly Departed is a powerful limited card as well. I’ve been using the ‘generate pack’ feature on Magic Set Editor to construct random boosters. It helps me visualize where the cube is going. When Dearly Departed appears, I tend to mentally first pick it. You don’t need any Humans to justify packing a 5/5 flyer for 6. Knowing humans though, it’s the days you aren’t looking for any that they flock to you.
I wasn’t planning to focus on Human tribal in this cube. I figured two ‘lords’ were enough to mix-up the odd draft. But if Dearly Departed wants to further the Human agenda, then call me Senator Kelly, because it’s time to fight back against this growing menace of the mutant agenda!
I want to reinforce Human tribal, but I also want to reinforce Spirits. It’s true that the Virtuoso isn’t improved by being in a Spirit tribal deck. But since only Spirits can block him, it still makes Spirits more special.
Attacking past non-Spirits thematically lead me to a Human who journeys to damnation to recover the dead. Except unlike the cast of ‘Once Upon a Time’, he goes in with a plan and executes it, as opposed to getting involved in the lives of every person who ever died on the show with no idea how to beat Hades, leading to a morass of plot deviations that makes it painfully clear that the writers were struggling to navigate a way out of their own plot hook quagmire. Damn it Emma Swan! You’re supposed to be the Chosen One! What were you chosen to do? Not plan? This is how Gold gets you and your stupid family every time! None of you recognize that your actions have consequences! You brought your entire extended family to the Underworld to retrieve one man! You just get to feel smug when Zeus Ex Machina comes down and [OMG Spoilers!!] as if you and your damn Scooby Gang had anything to do with I HATE THIS SHOW@(@#!!1!
Alright. Let’s hit the random button again to see what we get!
Oh. Darien, King of Kjeldor. Unfortunately, I must veto this card. Not for power level concerns (though, any card that effectively halts combat is concerning.) It’s… well… I just added Dearly Departed. Gatherer gave White a six-cost bomb, and it would be unbalancing to follow that up with another six-cost bomb. King Darien isn’t too powerful. He’s too powerful for this exact casting cost.
Maybe when I flesh the cube out he would be appropriate. But the king appeared at the worst possible time. So out he goes, cantering his horse through the gate he rode in through. Sorry King. I consider myself lucky. If he appeared first, and I designed a card for him, and then the double-tribal Dearly Departed hit… oy.
Punching a random button!
Huh. Vitalize. It can be a good combat trick in green, considering it costs one mana. I blitzed plenty of games with a Fog in hand. Preventing the counter-attack is cute. Obliterating the counter-attack is better.
Vitalize is also great with cards that tap to activate. I lamented in Log Seven that only one card tapped to activate in the set. I want to show you the design I paired for this card, but it’s tied in with the next card’s design. So that first.
Haha! Spawnsire of Ulamog! Look at the costs on this mama!
I’d love for that to be meaningful. But I’m not going to warp whole swaths of design to guarantee players can draft five killer Eldrazi only to tuck them in their sideboard for the off chance Spawnsire pops. That’s okay, though. Between Spawnsire’s power and toughness, Annihilator 1, and the ability to pump out cheap tokens, Spawnsire is worth it’s cost. It may not be worth building a deck that can reliably hit … but if your deck already goes there, why not dump an Elder God on the table?
We’re focusing on tap abilities, and the cube doesn’t include a mana elf. Let’s change that. Ideally, said mana elf would go to work early, but be capable of taking on more responsibility later. Like a Millennial intern. Except the process of taking on more responsibility later in the game will require considerable investment from its overseer. So nothing at all like a Millennial intern. I also have an off-color activated ability cycle which I’d like to flesh out. All considered, I tossed this together:
Which I thought was cool. I still think it’s cool. I would be happy to add this card. Except it shouldn’t be an Elf Druid. Druids don’t clone themselves. Maybe some sort of Druid Wizard? But even if we fix the class, cloning is still taboo for Elves. The more I thought about it, the more I felt this should be an insect. But the set already includes 1/1 insect tokens. They come from Hiveheart, which I designed in Log Four:
There are two problems here. The first is that there shouldn’t be two Green 1/1 Insect tokens in the Cube with different text. The second, and my original problem with Hiveheart, is that I don’t like the word ‘Defender’ on it. I can’t choose the details in the artwork I scavenge, and sometimes I need to adjust my design to the artwork I find. Something large that makes insects is bound to result in a stationary hive. But the word ‘Defender’ creates an extra line of text on an already bloated, complex card.
So I got to thinking. What if Hiveheart looked like this instead?:
• Hiveheart is now an enchantment. It doesn’t walk around the battlefield, and I don’t need to remind people who are concentrating on the card’s other details that it can’t attack.
• Since Hiveheart doesn’t provide a 4/4 blocker when it’s cast, I reduced its cost by .
• Since Hiveheart isn’t a 1/1 anymore, I gave it an extra counter.
• The +1/+1 counters are now egg counters, which feels less complex.
• Because there was more room to work with, Hiveheart now gives its odd evasion ability to all insects you control.
That last change is the important one. Because up until now, there wasn’t a dedicated Green mechanic. But after adding that last line, I got a glimpse of some neat design space for the Spawnsire.
The plan is to make a series of enchantments that crank out 1/1 Green Insects. While the tokens are redundant, each enchantment will give another ability to all insects. The Insects are kind of like Slivers in that they share their abilities. Except individual Slivers are usually easy to kill. In order to exterminate the insects, you need to go after their nests. I better put some solid enchantment destruction in the set (as bug repellent, but also aura repellent.)
Which brings us back to Vitalize:
I originally designed an enchantment which created lots of tokens with tap abilities. After I made Cultivator Nursery, I realized I could tie my original design into the insect theme.
I’m not sure about the costs, but I’ll fix it when I better understand what’s going on in Green. I’m more bothered with how a potential pile of instant speed boosts can make combat super confusing and frustrating. But I can’t make everything in the set sorcery speed. As far as I’m concerned, if you let Garrison sit on the board while a swelling army of insects fester, then your game loss is only a matter of time anyway.
Speaking of blow outs, I hit the random button and got Boil. Boil is a proud recipient of the automatic veto award. Maybe in abstracted antiquated games of Magic this card made sense. You don’t want to see Boil in a cube, though. Boil in pack three after building a mono-blue deck in a two-player draft comes with the knowledge that you either lost your pick, or will lose at least 65% of all your games before you even build your deck. It isn’t fair. It certainly isn’t fun. And if players aren’t having fun, then what’s the point in playing?
God bless the commenters in Gatherer. If mono-blue is the city of Pompeii, then Boil is Mount Vesuvius. Some people, however, will never be impressed. I’m partial to ElMikkino’s understated comment:
Seems like a good sideboard card. 3/5.
Let’s move on.
Okay, cool. Raging Goblin isn’t a particularly powerful card, but it’s been printed fourteen times (?!) so it does something right. Maybe it’s the flavor text. I always liked that flavor text.
With Aven Envoy in log seven, I justified its existence by deciding Blue’s mechanic didn’t need good creatures, it needed any creature. But Raging Goblin needs support to justify its existence. Oh sure, you could run this on round one, deal a damage to your opponent, then watch combat full stop when your opponent summons a Sanctuary Cat. No one likes to be outclassed by a stray church kitten. The cube should feature some cards that ensure this berserker retains punchiness levels of ‘your face’ on round two. Bonus: I can continue a cycle I hinted at, but didn’t finish.
In Log Three, I designed Scorpion’s Tail, and Dizzying Glamour, which could either enchant a creature, or pitch to make a Scorpion or Weird, respectively. This aura is cheaper on the front side than the other two. I presume most players would prefer dropping it on a one-cost creature to punish slow opponents. The pitch side is for emergencies… though it’s bound to surprise an occasional Snapping Drake.
Hitting the Random Card button again, Gatherer gifted me a creature that taps to activate. That’s super-nice Gatherer! And it’s an all-around solid card, too!
Solid, but strange. Sindbad is a legendary sailor who isn’t a Legend. That’s buggy. I thought about making him a Legend via errata. But 1/1 is admittedly tiny for a man whose seven epic voyages shadows a great portion of the Arabian Nights. So instead, I genericized him in the flavor text. Also, I made him a Pirate. Because, come on. Be happy I didn’t make him a Creature – Human Warrior Scout Pirate Artificer.
My original plan was to take Triskelion, and swap out the damage dealing for untapping. Wipe my hands, call it a day. But when I looked back in the file, I realized the only other non-insect with ‘tap to activate’ was Xenic Poltergeist. And the Poltergeist works on non-artifact creatures.
So I altered the Charging Station to not only work with Poltergeist, but work well with it. You can pay to activate Charging Station’s last ability making it a 4/4 for a turn (a 0/0 with four +1/+1 counters.) If you control the Poltergeist though, target the Station and smash your opponent for nine (a 5/5 with four +1/+1 counters.)
Hitting the random button!
Okay, Gatherer is doing my work for me. I could use another creature that tapped to add mana. Sylvan Caryatid does that, with a kickin’ body to boot. Birds of Paradise remains number one in the mana producing creature pecking order. But that’s because it costs . For two-cost, the Caryatid is pushed. Honestly, Utopia Tree could be a first pick in a number of cubes. Utopia Tree is meat and potatoes. The extra point of toughness and hexproof on the Caryatid is pure gravy.
I thought of making a card that works with Sylvan Caryatid, but I have more than enough cards that untap permanents, and I don’t want to toss yet another expensive creature into the works. The Caryatid doesn’t need help, so let’s add another card from the pitch aura cycle, shall we?
It’s tough costing cards like Centaur Hooves. Good versatile cards often look too expensive when costed right. I guess it needs testing.
Personally, I like the idea of an expensive aura with Haste. Over the years, Wizards pitched a number of red auras that cost or with tacked on Haste. Cards like Burst of Speed, however, see little play. Haste might be worth the card, but in the early game it’s better to play a creature than it is to wait a round and play that same creature with haste. I wonder what happens when Haste sauce comes with a side order of beef. It might be worth holding Elite Vanguard in hand an extra turn if you can slap hooves on him and charge a flummoxed opponent for five.
Twelve more cards down. That makes 107 out of 360. But last log, I promised to add tokens to the box. So let’s do that. Godsire all the way back in log one produces some mammoth beasts, so let’s see one!
Some tokens are more difficult than others to find artwork for. Finding a beast that didn’t look like it could be anything else, but could easily be an 8/8, and also red, green, and white simultaneously… it took time. This is only one half of Davesrightmind’s powerful artwork. If you’re curious, the rest can be found here.
If I only created one token creature per article, I don’t think I’d catch up. Insects are relevant right now. Let’s create an insect.