Thursday, December 31, 2015

Commander Cube: Drafting with Other People

The original purpose for putting together the Commander Cube was so that I could quickly build different Commander decks to keep things interesting. The Commander Cube would be the cards I liked for the purposes of building decks, and not for the more typical purpose of a cube, which is to use as a limited card pool for drafting or playing sealed with other people.

Drafting the Commander Cube with other people, in a limited environment, is wildly different than using the Commander Cube to build Commander decks for myself to put up against the world.

Seems obvious, right?

Well, it is and it isn't.

Magic, as a game, leans heavily on the color pie to keep things consistent. The idea that each color does only some things well is what makes the game interesting on some level. In limited, red gets in there with quick attacks. But, if you are putting your Commander deck up against the world, the number of decks that can supporting a haste two-power one-drop is severely limited.

Goblin GuideKrenko, Mob Boss

Krenko can do it, but probably doesn't want to.

In a limited environment, like draft or sealed, a red deck that builds around a low-curve of small creatures is practically a given. Look at just about any block and scroll through the red creatures. You will see a lot of small creatures at common or uncommon rarities, and a few big dragons at the top end. That's the deck. Swarming, speed, and burn with a big flying beater to bomb the game out if it goes long. Red can be a lot of things, but that right there is what red is at its heart.

CarnophageNight's Whisper

Black can play this game too, but usually has more of a suicidal bend to it. No burn, but cards that trade life for value fill out the deck with some way to wipe the board for advantage. Black can also play a more controlling deck, which leads me to another color.

CondescendPrognostic Sphinx

Blue has tempo plays with countering spells and bouncing permanents. It can swarm with creatures, too, but usually gets its advantage from a well-placed spell at a pivotal moment. It can play similar to black where it locks up the game with card advantage spells and then drops a big creature to close things out.

Monastery MentorHonor of the Pure

White can swarm with creatures, but things build on themselves in this color. Creatures and enchantments will make the army grow in size or abilities. White stands together and brings in a big Angel to win the day.

Garruk's CompanionThrun, the Last Troll

Green has small creatures and big creatures to fill up the board, usually with better creatures at each point in the curve than the others colors have, especially in the mid-range size.

These general descriptions do not hold when taken out of a limited environment. In the larger world of Commander games, things get really big really fast. Games often skip the first three or four turns where a normal game of Magic might have give and take. Instead, there's lots of ramping, casting incremental value cards, or landing huge spells for value.

Mikaeus, the UnhallowedTriskelion

You also have access to a predetermined deck, as opposed to something you just drafted and threw together. So, in that case, you can put together very specialized synergies. Combinations of cards that you couldn't count on drafting together are not a problem to put together in a deck that you built specifically for the purpose of putting those cards together.

Reiver Demon

It also means that commitment to a single color is almost never going to work out unless you get really lucky with the cards you pull. Cards with three or even four mana symbols of a single color become almost unplayable in a limited environment. And color-fixing is even more important so that you don't randomly lose to having a handful of the wrong spells to go with your lands.

So, if you want to draft a Commander cube in a limited environment vs. using the Commander cube to build decks for yourself against the world, the cards that go into the cube are going to be completely different.

Yeah, that makes sense.

What does that mean for the Commander Cube, then? Well, since we have been drafting it as a group, it means that most of the colors need significant changes to make that work. Games were ending in an unsatisfying way, where whoever got the ramp and bombs first ended up winning.

I started making changes, but depending on when you read this, I might not have gotten everything updated yet. You can take a look at the progress here.

Prossh, Skyraider of Kher

So, how do you play Commander in a limited environment?

Here's how it works:

1) Deal out two of the three-color legendary creatures to each player.

Each player selects one of these two creatures to be their commander, but doesn't make the final selection until deckbuilding, later.

2) Draft three or four 15 card packs, as normal. Or, deal out six or eight 15 card packs for sealed.

3) Build 50 card decks, but follow the color identity rule like you would in a normal Commander game.

This is where you select your commander. If you ended up with a two-color or one-color legendary creature, you can use it as your commander instead of one of the three-color legendary creatures you were dealt in step 1.

4) Play a multiplayer game, but with the following changes:

*Players must have exactly 50 cards in their deck, including their Commander.
*Players start with 30 life.
*Players lose if they take 16 damage from any one Commander.

You can do free-for-all, where everyone can attack anyone, or you can use one of the variations where attacks can only be made to the left or the right. You can even duel instead of multiplayer if that's your thing. It depends on how much time you have available and how close you want it to be to a normal game of Commander.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Kozilek Commander: Colorless Developments In Oath of the Gatewatch

Colorless and Generic mana are two different things now. Here we go.

See that "diamond" symbol in the mana cost? That's the new colorless mana symbol. It means that you MUST use colorless mana to cast the spell. This is different than the generic mana costs shown by numbers in circles. For those costs, you can use any color of mana OR colorless mana to meet the requirement. Easy, right?

We'll see.

I really (really) dig the Eldrazi. They are bad ass. It's so flavorful what the Eldrazi are doing, existing between the planes. Consuming manifestations of reality. Laying waste. Great stuff there. And now, with the official Oath of the Gatewatch spoilers coming out, we are getting a good look at the truly colorless Eldrazi.

But what's really shaking things up, in my mind at least, is the introduction of a new Basic Land called Wastes.

This is foundational stuff here. A new basic land after all these years? Sign me up.

With the introduction of Wastes, it means that we can finally put together a fully colorless Commander deck that does not rely on a hodge-podge of non-basic lands to work. We can stick 30 Wastes plus 10 or so utility lands in the deck and call it a day.

Wooptie doo?

Solemn SimulacrumWayfarer's Bauble

Hell yes, wooptie doo. Because Wastes is a basic land, we can start to use the good search and ramp cards that the other decks have had access to from the beginning. Sad Robot? Wayfarer's Bauble? Yes and yes. Armillary Sphere and Extraplanar Lens? Go for it.

RuinationBack to Basics

It also means that the mana base is more stable. Ruination doesn't ruin our day. Back to Basics doesn't lock us out. Price of Progress doesn't bomb us back to the stone age. It's like we are playing a real deck.

Plus, it's a massive flavor win. Wastes are cool. Playing a colorless deck with Kozilek at the helm and casting him with a bunch of lands that represent all of the colored mana drained from the world? Oh, yes.

With all that said, it's a little weird to be introducing colorless mana now. Will players adjust? Almost certainly. But, it's confusing. You see, they are changing the way all of the old cards that produce colorless mana look. That Sol Ring you've been using for 20 years? Well, it actually produces colorless mana. That's two diamond symbols. So, keep that in mind.

I see some serious work for artists that do altered cards in the future.