The Cube According to Gatherer, Part 15 – White Knighting White
I’m thirteen cards away from 180, which fills my cube half-way. But, looking at set statistics we see this:
Black and Red dominates the card count. Meanwhile, White and Blue struggle to keep up. We saw a similar disparity when I pulled this chart forward in log eight. Back then, Green was the loser. It’s nice to see that color step up. But Black dominated that chart as well. And while I vowed to pull focus off Black and onto the other four colors, it seems good intentions might get a cellist into a marching band, but it doesn’t guarantee she can march.
Why are there more black cards? I still maintain some of this is dumb luck. Half of the black cards currently in the cube were chosen by Gatherer (17 out of 34.) I also tend to favor designing cards that are responses to the cards I pull from Gatherer. Sometimes response cards might be in the same color, or they might be in another color. Flip a coin. Unfortunately, coin flips yield fifty/fifty results, while spinning the color pie tends to land on twenty/eighty.
As for White, I haven’t touched two core mechanics: damage prevention and toughness boosting. That’s because of the mechanic’s poor overlap with the ‘gain 3 life’ mechanic. Any spell I design that prevents damage instead of gaining life feels like a wasted opportunity.
Or maybe I enjoy designing black cards more?
Either way, I need to correct what I can before playtesting begins. I can’t control the winds which buffet the good ship Gatherer, but I can adjust the sails of design. So this week features an extra challenge; every card I design will be white. Next week, I’ll fly the Blue and maybe Green sails, depending where the high seas take me.
Hoist the jib, and scuttle the mainsail! Let’s turn this ketch to port!
Gatherer chooses Nature’s Panoply. Not a bad card for the cube. I could use another combat trick, and more counters are always welcome. Unfortunately it uses Strive, which is awkward placed next to the Replicate mechanic I snuck on a few cards. Ah, well. I suppose if Gatherer fed me perfect choices, then the Singularity would be achieved and the machines would keep in a giant vat to use for energy storage. Maybe I’ll be replaced by an artificial intelligence that’s also an ineffectual blogger? One can hope.
It’s a fool’s errand bridging the differences between Strive and Replicate. A better plan is to ensure yet more Replicate cards so players recognize the theme, and accept the card with Strive as a fluke. I wanted to use alternate costs for Replicate anyway, and White features one that works well here.
Due Diligence can be used to force key blocks, though I’m sure most players will be interested in its value as a finisher. Tapping the team to fly in with one giant pegasus can be terrifying to both the defending and attacking player. A single removal spell (maybe even a Shock with all the Due Diligence copies on the stack) can not only prevent a sudden forfeiture, but reverse into total victory against a team turned sideways. Use Discipline with courage and jurisprudence.
Steady as she goes, Gatherer! Steady…
Two Leviathans! Nobody said anything about two Leviathans!
When Gatherer pitched Tromokratis, I was tossed. I knew to expect game crashing rares, but the first time I saw one, it crumbled my expectations of what this draft environment was, and what it would be about.
Now I’m mentally prepared to handle… are we serious? An unblockable eight damage, stapled to a Moat? When drafting blue in cube, you could be presented with a choice between Stormtide Leviathan and Aven Envoy. Good news: you can still attack with Aven Envoy on the turn after your opponent drops a Stormtide Leviathan (flying, ftw!) Bad news: You’re a bad player and you should feel bad.
In response to Tromokratis, I made a Pacifism that increases the cost of all subsequent creatures your opponent casts by . Incidental taxes make for a good answer to expensive nukes. If Gatherer insists on unfathomable game enders instead of kiddie pool hogs Sea Serpent and Slipstream Serpent, that’s fine. We’ll make it a little more painful to tap eight Islands.
This is a poor design. The abilities are fine… it’s just that the card is too complex. Gatherer is hogging too many slots with cards that don’t help our themes. The cards I design need to tie the sets themes together to double-down on their effectiveness. Consequently, Kami of Unbroken Lineage is a sort of ‘single card combo’, locking lands and returning creatures to lock more lands. I even committed the sin of letting you lock a land when you cast this Kami, another complicating nugget I left in so this Kami can do something when you don’t draw into any Spirits. That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption considering there are only 16 Spirits in the set so far out of 93 creatures.
But there’s still too much going on, chunking a wordy ability with a convoluted twist on an ability we last saw in 2005. I don’t want to do it, but I need to split these mechanics into two separate cards.
Now we got a problem. I unbalanced the cube by introducing two cards in response to a single card from Gatherer. And there needs to be an even balance. I suppose that means we need to add a card to the cube to make up for my transgression. This could be a really bad idea. I’m covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers while Gatherer evens the scales…
Ooh.. I got lucky. Thundersong Trumpeter is reasonable. It helps fills out Human tribal. It’s multi-colored, but not in a combination which came up yet, and I’m already dedicated to fixing multi-color problems later in the cube’s design. It even counts as a white card. And there’s no suggestion that it requires additional design for it to fit this cube.
I couldn’t ask for a better penalty. But let’s not do this again for a long time, right? Hey Gatherer! Hit me with another!
Gatherer tosses Countless Gears Renegade in the box. Another white card. Neat. Unfortunately, the renegade doesn’t immediately speak to anything I need White to do at the moment (it does make me want to support the creatures matters theme in Blue though. Next week, John-Michael. Next week.)
I guess the ‘problem’ is that Renegade doesn’t need our help. Revolt comes with Morbid baked in, and that mechanic only requires attacking to work. I could make a Flicker, but it isn’t necessary. I suppose we can let this card be, and work on something the cube needs instead.
White currently shares five mechanics, and they’re fleshed out to varying extents. But Masquerade, the mechanic that says “This creature has every creature name” is trailing. We need to fix that not only by sticking more creatures in the cube with Masquerade, but by also increasing the number of payoffs for playing creatures with Masquerade.
Aven Envoy sure could use some love. Without the Envoy (or a creature with Masquerade) Man of Letters is a crap shoot. With Envoy, however, you know when a boost is coming, when to tuck an unwanted top deck, or, you know, when to avoid spending three mana for no good reason. Good jorb, Aven Envoy. Keep this up and someday people might recognize you as ‘mostly worse than Ornithopter.’
Punch the button!
Damn Gatherer, you can’t quit it with the auras, can you? That’s okay. I like Custody Battle. It makes for an interesting mini-game. Which reminds me… I love mini-game that force players to interact with each other. But I don’t think I designed any yet… oh wait! Man of Letters does that! With Masquerade, it gives you the opportunity to bluff, or pretend that you’re bluffing. Even if you don’t know the top card of your library, it still forces your opponent to ask themselves “What are the odds?” and “Can I afford those odds?”
I like the avenues Man of Letters is exploring, I like that it supports Masquerade, and increasing the value of Aven Envoy doesn’t hurt. Why not do it again, with a couple of minor changes?
Originally, Man of Letters and Unresolved Geas required you to tap Aven Envoy to look at the top card of your library. That might be fine for a 0/2 bird, but the set also includes Masqueradering barbarian warlords and avenging angles. It doesn’t make sense to tap a heavenly host to guarantee a suit of armor got in the first hit. It’s unfortunate. I like tapping the Aven Envoy. It feels like he’s actively delivering messages that way. Maybe we can find more work for the career carrier canary later.
Moving on, we get…
Ha! No. There’s no way I’m not vetoing the sixth worst blue card in all of Magic. If this popped up within the first two logs, I would’ve found a way to work with it. It probably would involve designing a color-matters theme into the set with a lot of Sleight of Mind effects. It’s possible, with enough work, we could do the incredible and make the Snitch reasonable. But we’re too invested in our themes now to dedicate this much design space to a single abominable card. There isn’t even a creature with Protection from Black in the set yet, and we’re about halfway through design. Let’s try again.
Shapeshifter’s Marrow will do. There will be plenty of times when you’d rather Clone a copy your opponent’s best creature right away. But you can theoretically cast Marrow on round four, dump Stormtide Leviathan into your opponent’s yard on your round five, and swing for unblockable eight. Boom, Kraken-lacka!
Oh! And this is another card where knowing the top card of a library is an advantage. Unfortunately, the player’s library we want a peek at is the opponent’s. Manipulating the cards in your opponent’s library, even for a peek, isn’t White’s slice of the color pie. It’s a Black/Blue thing. That’s fine. I’m adding it to my ‘to do’ list for the next log.
In the meantime, my two new Masquerade party hosts could use another reveler. I should probably combine Masquerade with another cube mechanic, but Marrow got me stimulated on simulations. White don’t do clones. But it shares creature keywords on occasion. How about we play with that?
There are a lot of keywords in this cube, but many of them are one-offs. For players who aren’t intentionally drafting a Totemic Amalgam deck, this creature will be a 4/4 that might give your team flying twice in a game. That’s strong enough for me. If you cram your deck with creature abilities though, then things are about to get crazy-go-nuts.
Reach wasn’t added to the Amalgam, because reach matters during other player’s turns. The same goes for Phasing, which triggers during the upkeep. Cycling and flash aren’t relevant once a creature hits the battlefield. Level up wasn’t added because it’s unlikely to be meaningful, and more likely to result in a small pile of Level counters on a creature without Level up ‘just in case’. But all the other creature abilities were added. I’m guessing Rampage, Annihilator, and Soulshift don’t need their numerical values for the same reason that Concerted Effort doesn’t specify a type of landwalk or protection. If Spawnsire of Ulamog enters the arena, your token horde gains Annihilator 1 for a round. That’s a whole lotta ‘nihilation.
As I said before, I aim to design realistic cards. But any attempt to do that here would result in frustration. Modern design wouldn’t include a card that grants horsemanship, but here we are with Kessig Cagebreaker and a pack of wolves riding a team of horses. Likewise, Odric, Lunarch Marshal doesn’t share non-white abilities, but if we’re already breaking taboo for the sake of fun, we might as well keep going and add haste, trample, et al.. Defender was added because I think it’s funny (though I do plan on making one or two defender tribal cards, so it might cause a surprise win.) You can circumvent defender anyway by casting walls after combat. It’ll be an annoyance if Gatherer puts Wall of Air in the cube, but them’s the breaks.
[Confusing aside: When Kami of Unbroken Lineage enters the battlefield, creatures you control don’t gain Soulshift X-1, where yadda yadda yadda. They gain Soulshift 4 until end of turn, because that’s the ability Kami of Unbroken Lineage enters the battlefield with. I updated the Kami’s reminder text to reflect that while Unbroken Lineage’s ability only gives Soulshift to spirits, Soulshift still does something on any creature that happens to get it. Awkward, I know. Still, I figured it was better to include Soulshift on Amalgam because it technically works, and giving your entire team Soulshift every time you cast a Spirit is impressively crazy.]
Bonus token creature time!
We’re continuing our cycle of tokens for the auras you can pitch to create a creature. This centaur is what happens when you grow a centaur like a chia pet from just the hooves in log nine.
And this elemental unlooses from Elemental Arms in the same log. I thought I set myself up for failure with Elemental Arms. Small fire elementals with reach isn’t a popular art commission. But this coiled streak of flame looks ready to spring.
That’s another twelve cards bringing us to 179 total. Next log, we’ll Gather five new cards, and design five blue cards to further our color diversity agenda. Then it’s time to adjust costs and playtest. Until then, though, why don’t you check out the According to Gatherer archive to see what you missed?