Monday, July 26, 2010

My brother sent me an Excel spreadsheet with his propose cube on it. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, a "cube" is a home made assembly of magic cards, usually with the best cards ever printed. With enough cards you can separate them into new "booster packs" and play with them without actually having to pay for new product. Also, it's all kinds of fun. But back to the matter at hand. My brother sent me a list of magic cards that he's planning to put in his cube, and I'm going to try to forge those into an excellent drafting environment.

It's not going to be easy. Or short. y'see, I've never done this before, and I've never crafted a draft environment before, so I'll be figuring this out as I go along. Great, huh? Let's get down to it.

Let's talk numbers. Each drafter gets three packs of 15 cards. That's 45 cards per drafter, and fielding a table of eight requires 45*8=360 individual cards. You want more cards than that so there's some variance as to what you expect to see every draft. In this case my brother has designed his cube with twice that many cards, 720 so that he can make either two eight man drafts, or have just one draft with a significantly varying card pool. Ok? now how do you divide that into colors? Five colors, multicolor cards, artifacts and lands. If you just divide by eight we get 90 cards per type. Straightforward enough? Well, until you get to multicolored. You can adjust the numbers by having more artifacts and less land, for example, but one of the stated goals of the cube is that it ought to have interesting nonbasic lands to draft. But all this is worked out already in the spreadsheet; he's got the cards all listed, sorted by converted mana cost and creature/noncreature, and including alternates for all the slots.

What we need to do is figure out if this cube will make for an interesting drafting environment. To do that we'll try to identify archetypes and build decks with the cards. First up:

Red Deck Wins
The idea behind red deck wins (or sligh, or by another name) is to drop quick red creatures backed up by burn and kill your opponent before he gets a chance to get going. Usually hard to do in a draft since people are always splashing your best burn for removal. Still, It's always good to make the red deck first in a new format because that gives you a measure of the speed of the format. The cards:

Creatures:
(1 drops) Mogg Fanatic, Jackal Pup, Greater Gargadon, Magus of the Scroll, Grim lavamancer, Gorilla Shaman, Goblin Welder, Spark Elemental, Goblin Cadets, Goblin Cohorts, Jackal Familiar
(2 drops) Hellspark Elemental, Blood Knight, Keldon Marauders, Mogg War Marshal, Ashling the Pilgrim, Plated Geopede, Slith Firewalker, Stigma Lasher, Emberwilde Auger, Ember Hauler
(3 drops) Magus of the Moon, Ball Lightning, Hell's Thunder, Zo-zu the punisher, Taurean Mauler, Sulfur Elemental, Countryside Crusher
(4+ drops) Rakdos Pit-dragon, Avalance Riders, Anger, Blistering Firecat, Flametongue Kavu, Rakka Mar, Skizzik, Siege Gang Commander, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Bogardan Hellkite
(Tattermunge Maniac, Boggart Ram Gang, Figure of Destiny, Ashenmoor Gouger, Giant Solifuge and Rakdos Guildmage in multicolored, Juggernaut in Artifact Creatures)

That's a pretty solid mass of creatures, and while a number will get grabbed by anybody with a red splash (Flametongue Kavu, Grim Lavamancer, Gorilla Shaman for example), quite a number of those cards aren't any good outside a dedicated red deck wins. Jackal Pups right off the top. Let's look at the spells.

(1 mana) Red elemental blast, Reckless Charge, Chain Lighting, Genju of the spires, Lightning bolt, Dead/Gone
(2 mana) Ancient Grudge, Chain of Plasma, Magma Jet, Fork, Flame Rift, Shrapnel Blast, Lash Out
(3 mana) Price of Progress, Pyromancer's Swath, Blood Moon, Flamebreak, Char, Rift Bolt, Browbeat, Wheel of Fortune, Pyrostatic Pillar, Seismic Assault
(4+ mana) Manabarbs, Relentless Assault, Chandra Nalaar, Fireblast, Jokulhaups, Form of the Dragon, Banefire, Rolling Thunder, Earthquake, Beacon of Destruction)

Huh. There aren't as many spells, and a good number of them are splashable to other colors. Not as good of a sign.

Artifacts: (Note, plenty of mana acceleration, going to skip over it by and large)
(0 mana) Mox Ruby
(1 mana) Skullclamp, Aether Vial, Black Vice, Cursed Scroll)
(2 mana) Umezawa's Jitte, Lightning Greaves, Winter Orb)
(3 mana) Tangle Wire, Trinisphere, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Light and Shadow, Loxodon Warhammer
(4+ mana) Goblin Charbelcher, Nevinyrral's Disc, Sigil of Distinction, Memory Jar

Again, people are going to be taking artifacts pretty highly, and there are more artifacts that are technically an option, especially if you want to splash other colors or accelerate faster.

Lands: The vast majority of the lands (70/90) are color fixing lands, which mostly a dedicated red deck can ignore. It might be worthwhile picking up some red fetches if you've already got a geopede, but by and large we'll ignore them. let's look at the playable utility lands:
Strip Mine, Wasteland, Mutavault, Mishra's Factory, Rishidan Port, Barbarian Ring, Forgotten Cave

Not much there, and almost anybody's going to grab Mutavault and the Factory. The land destruction works better in a red deck than otherwise; in a red deck wins you can expect to play your spells out more quickly than your opposition so trading one land of yours for one land of theirs is usually a good deal. Still, with that many decent utility lands and mana fixing lands the occasional bit of land destruction goes well with most decks.

Ok, so, let's say I'm building the deck. What cards do I include? I'm going to build the deck with only half the cards in the pool, and cut many of the splashable cards.

(1 mana) Jackal Pups, Tattermunge Maniac, Goblin Cohorts, Figure of Destiny, Chain Lighting, Red Elemental Blast, Cursed Scroll
(2 mana) Keldon Marauders, Stigma Lasher, Ember Hauler, Flame Rift
(3 mana) Magus of the Moon, Ball Lightning, Boggart Ram gang, Seismic Assault, Pyrostatic Pillar
(4+ mana) Siege Gang Commander, Giant Solifuge, Kiki Jiki, Avalanche Riders, Chandra Nalaar, Earthquake,
Lands: Wasteland, Barbarian Ring, Forgotten Cave, 14 mountain.

Eminently playable. Got a good number of one drops and a solid number of creatures to follow up with. Jackal pups into Keldon Marauders into Ball lightning into Flame rift or Solifuge or whatnot gives a potential turn four goldfish, even without shoving all the best red cards into the deck. Figure, Chandra, Earthquake and Siege gang give your deck late game power too.

So what does this thought experiment tell us? There are enough cards to make a red deck wins regardless of which half of the cube you pick up. If nobody at the table is drafting red you can make a deck that will goldfish on turn four. So if you're trying to draft a control deck it'll have to be reacting before turn four so that you can stabilize. Whether the deck is legitimate (In those times where nobody else uses red as a main color) really depends on the power level and availability of the rest of the decks in the metagame, which won't develop for some time. In the meantime though, we've got more decks to build.