The Cube According to Gatherer, Part 14 – A Planeswalker to Remember
Hi there! I’m John-Michael Gariepy. I bust my hump cubing a cube cube for Magic: the Cubening by going to Gatherer, hitting the ‘Random Card’ button, then accepting whatever appears. To give the cube a sense of cohesion, for every random card Gatherer gives me, I design a card to pull the themes together.
There’s a little more to it. So that the cube remains fun, I reserve the right to veto any one card. Fun is subjective, though, and this is supposed to be a challenge. So I aim for restraint. If I was more free with my veto power, in fact, then there’s no way this week’s first random card would last any longer than a hen in a fox house.
Liliana of the Veil. Not just any Planeswalker, but one of the most efficient walkers in the game. Her second ability alone is worth the price of admission. Considering the overcosted creature destruction we see nowadays, I may not be happy about running Cruel Edict for , but I’d do it. Here’s another card with a rating of 3.461 that costs : Necrogen Mists. That’s Liliana’s first ability, except she’s capable of neutralizing the mists and walking away when it isn’t convenient. Her only ‘downside’ is that her ultimate is ‘only’ Do or Die. Whatever. She costs three mana. Expecting more than half a blowout is greedy.
As with any card this powerful, I thought about using a veto. But honestly? I never played with or against Liliana of the Veil, and there’s a lot of moving parts, so I can’t be certain she’s busted for our mid-power cube. It’s not like she’s ever been banned. So I’ll err on the side of experimentation. Liliana needs to prove she’s naughty if she wants a time out.
Fielding a single planeswalker in the cube doesn’t feel right. But I don’t want to design a white planeswalker only to watch Gatherer march Ajani out. If we’re in the last quintile and no more planeswalkers appear, then I’ll populate one or two. But for now we’re following my usual tactic for overpowered Gatherer picks: Ignore it. Liliana doesn’t need other cards to synergize with her. Magic: the Gathering synergizes with her. Let’s make something the cube needs.
Our suicide black theme is shaping up. But there’s a cap to how much pain a person can take before flopping like plans for an extended universe that includes the Baywatch and Emoji movies (🛶👃⌚️🚀🚀🍳❓) Most any black deck can sport a Foul Imp. If you’re the aggressor, you can pack four. But if every card in your deck cost two life, it doesn’t matter if your cards are efficient. If you can’t cast more than nine spells; your opponent will gain card advantage over you.
We need more cards that play into a suicide theme that doesn’t force its life loss onto us. So I made this:
Originally, I planned to print an ability that read “Pay 1 life, : Put the top card of your library into your graveyard.” I imagined it would be funny to see how a new player might react to a card that hurts you to do something ‘bad’. But I think by this point most players are savvy enough to understand that moving a limited number of cards from your library to your graveyard is a benefit, not a hindrance. But intentionally lose life? Why would I do that? Why indeed…
Okay Gatherer! Next card!
Magmaquake throws a loop. I mulled it over, but in the end decided I should veto. Not for power level issues. It’s strong, but there are stronger cards in the cube. I’m not keen on overdoing global wipes, but outside of Marsh Casualties we don’t got any. At this rate, imma need design a few.
My problem with Magmaquake is that, in this cube, Red features an anti-flying theme. This card is anti-non-flying.
Sure, the two themes work well together. That’s why many early players packed back-to-back Earthquake and Hurricane. But those decks required you to play Red/Green to take advantage of the synergy. If Red includes both ‘X destruction’ and ‘non-X destruction’, there’s no need to seek other colors to fill the gaps.
That’s an argument against Magmaquake from a deck building perspective. But Magmaquake is also problematic from a thematic perspective. If a player sees Magmaquake, then sees an anti-flying Red card, what do they think? Some would take it in stride, I’m sure. But others would assume my anti-flying card is a color pie break. It’s as if there’s no thought behind my design choices, and the cards I design are as random as the cards generated by Gatherer.
I don’t want that. If Hurricane pops up, that’s one thing. I’m not going to veto every Green anti-flying card I see. I’d be disregarding too large a swatch of Magic cards. But Red anti-non-flying is a rare mechanic that might show up on one card per block.
I’m not happy about the idea of vetoing a card for thematic reasons. I would prefer readers felt I used every reasonable card Gatherer threw at me. Magmaquake, in a vacuum, is reasonable. I assume some people will feel I should run it. But my impression is that this card will make the cube worse. And I don’t think I should accept cards that take away from the cube.
Let’s find a replacement for Magmaquake, Gatherer!
Very funny, Gatherer. If I vetoed Magmaquake, then I must veto Earthquake. That said, getting Earthquake here makes me less upset that I vetoed Magmaquake. Earthquake doubles down on the Magmaquake’s problems. And accepting Magmaquake only to veto Earthquake would feel even less ingenuous.
One more time. What card do I replace Magma/Earthquake with, Gatherer?
Oof. I almost want to dump this back into the murky depth it emerged from. Even the artwork is horrible. This looks less like a Coral Helm, and more like an exploding bird cage. Steve Luke reworked the artwork for Fifth Edition, but I wasn’t inspired by it, and I felt Coral Helm is such an upsetting card that it deserves art that’s a cross between a Chinese lantern and an inside-out chicken. The Helm may enable cards with Madness, but staring at it too long just makes me mad.
Still, it’s in. It may look like a horrible option compared to Deepwood Drummer, but that’s because it is. At least it works. It works poorly. If you ever want zero control over which card in your hand becomes an overcosted Mutagenic Growth, then Coral Helm is for you.
I can’t make Coral Helm a better card, but I can work with it. There aren’t a lot of cards in set that can be discarded for a boon. That means we can design one or two that are above average. In concert with these cards, Coral Helm could achieve poopiness; a full step up from utter crap. Strong discard outlets also work great with Liliana of the Veil. Whoops.
I thought about designing an overtly overpowered card by making the discard result in Sign in Blood. But I don’t want to design cards too powerful to see print in real Magic. ‘Lose 1, draw 1 for ’ is instead a marginal increase powerful over Obsessive Search. Except I can’t return Obsessive Search to my hand every turn…
For only one mana, Twiddle provides a variety of options. Many games have been decided by a clutch Twiddle. But how many games must one sit with a dead Twiddle in hand before a clutch situation arises?
Let’s set that question aside for now. Gatherer seems intent on forcing an untapping theme on the cube. And every untapper it gives me, I add another target worth untapping. Here’s another one.
I thought about giving the Incendiary an ability that let it untap itself. But I guess I’m in one of those moods, where I want some people to scratch their heads.
Another one down Gatherer. What’s next?
Spark Spray. Okay, cool. It’s a useful spell, and I already tossed cycling on a few other cards, so this fits well.
I’m finding it tricky pulling together some of these A+B mechanics. With this particular theme, I need some cards that gain 3 life, and some cards that do something when I gain 3 life.
Gaining 3 life is easy. If I wanted to, I could add ‘gain 3 life’ to any White or Green spell, increase the cost by , and call it a card. Got a Savannah Lions? How about we call it 4 life and name it Lone Missionary? Counterspell? Add one and you get Absorb. Angel’s Mercy? Sure. Gain 10 life for , and it’s still a poor draft choice.
Cards that trigger when you gain 3 life are trickier to slip into the file. Since those cards don’t do anything on their own, I need to attach the ability to a card (probably a permanent) that could already function in a vacuum without the gain 3 life trigger. On top of that, while we’re conditioned to see life gain on random cards for no particular reason, putting a trigger that requires the gaining of 3 life on… let’s say Heavy Ballista‘s ability for example… requires more finesse. You can’t just staple “When you gain 3 life, draw a card” on any card. People will wonder why. And not all triggers are realistic since life gain can happen at awkward times, like at the beginning of the upkeep, or at the end of combat (thank you lifelink.)
Oh, it’s not that big a deal. I could create ten cards that trigger off life gain right now. It’s just tricky sometimes because I’m at the whim of what Gatherer throws at me, and Gatherer tends to throw wild curveballs. And curveballs are tricky to bunt when all you want is to get your man on third home.
Baseball analogies? What am I doing? The area proportional Venn diagram intersection between people who play Magic and those who watch baseball would require two angles more acute than those found in an icosagram. (Good job, John-Michael. Way to win back that nerd cred while alienating your audience.) All I wanted to say was that cycling works well with part B mechanics that are useless without part A. Oh, and in an aura decks, paying for a cantrip that returns an enchantment to your hand is probably worth the slot all on its own.
Huh. Tunnel. This bothered me at first, since it looked like an entirely new mechanic was raising its head. But all I need do is give ten of the creatures in the set Defender for Tunnel to be useful. Simple enough.
[Note to self: I need to design one or two cards that do something positive with Defender. Seems silly to include ten walls only for Tunnel to knock down.]
For now, though, Tunnel gives me free reign to make a creature that fills out a cycle, as long as I’m cool with it not attacking.
My first thought was to make this wall’s ability regeneration. That would make Tunnel an ideal solution against it, since Tunnel bypasses regeneration. But… regeneration is what Sedge Troll does, and Sedge Troll is the card that inspired me to make this cycle of off-color activators in the first place. And it would be pretty weird for two cards in a five card cycle to feature the same ability.
It took time to stumble on the ability that’s there now. Eventually it occurred to me that while Blue and Black are doing their jobs filling the graveyard, that there’s only one ‘Green’ creature that works with a filled graveyard, and that’s the card that started blue and black mill in the first place: Kessig Cagebreakers. I don’t feel like we need a lot of Green cards that exploit the graveyard. Mill can be its own reward, especially when combined with graveyard recursion. But it doesn’t hurt to throw those dogs a bone every now and then.
Let’s move on. Gatherer?
Yay! The rulse say that Swamp color shifts our next card to Black. Whatchu got, Gatherer?
Titanic Growth. Interesting. We can’t do a direct translation, since Black doesn’t give a boost like this without some sort of rider. We could flip this to -4/-4, or +4/-4. Both of those spells would be beyond the pale for , but not beyond reasonable. But I get the impression that turning Titanic Growth into a removal spell loses too much of the flavor of the original spell. Titanic Growth is about making something big and scary. I want to do that.
Losing life as an additional cost sounds reasonable at first blush. But it isn’t really. Not because of the Foul Imp problem I was talking about earlier (though, that’s still a problem.) Black shouldn’t be able to staple “Lose 2 life” onto a card so it can ignore the color wheel.
I admit, I’m not a fan of using the expression ‘as an additional cost’. In Unearthly Strength’s case, it can lead to losing a brutal three for one blowout. But it fits the ruthlessness and directness of this card better than ‘may sacrifice’ and ‘if you do’. Besides, I added cycling to this card. Unearthly Strength isn’t useful in a lot of scenarios, and cycling is already available in this set. It doesn’t hurt that it helps balance the costs so that Unearthly Strength can maintain a casting cost of . But it’s also nice that it gives you a chance to chicken out. If your opponent is packing too many counters, or too much removal, then maybe it’s best to cycle into a creature. Opportunistic players with steely resolve may choose to go for the glory, but I’m sure your leanings toward hesitancy is a choice as well.
Sacrificing creatures plays into one of the themes of our cube. And I wouldn’t mind seeing it spreading out of Red into another color. But Red and Black are already bro-ing out over the suicide theme. Meanwhile, there’s no real connection between Red and Green in the set yet. And Green’s been known to snap open a creature or two on occasion. So here’s a card:
Bonus token time! Back in Log Three, I introduced Scoripion’s tail, an aura that granted +1/+3 and deathtouch, or could be pitched to get a Scorpion token. The artwork was cropped, but the original work was a picture of a manticore so I can’t use that. Dean Spencer comes to the rescue.
How do you represent a -5/5 Weird? I’m sure everyone’s got their own opinion, but Chenthooran’s ‘Weird Giant 22’ called out to me. And yes, that means there are at least 21 other weird giants to explore on Chenthooran’s deviantart page. Feel free to check his work out if you like straight up oddity.
Alright, that does it for this installment. Another 12 cards, bringing us up to 167. As always, you can continue onto Log Fifteen, or check out the According to Gatherer main page. And don’t forget to be a weird giant. Later!