Interlude: Cycle Completionism Cube-builders OCD

When I started building the cube I had two big driving forces behind doing it. The first was playing with cards I liked but didn’t really have a use for only really playing commander and limited formats (i do play the odd bit of standard and modern but not as much as I’d like). The single card that most set this off was Deathrite Shaman as I had a set and had not really gotten any use since rotation (I used them a little in Inn-RTR standard Jund). A close second was the pack fresh Force of Will I had opened in an ice age/alliance/cold snap draft we did one night.

The second was that I like cycles of cards and outside of the 5 colour Progenitus commander deck I keep meaning to make you never really get to make use of a whole cycle in something. On top of that no matter how much you like a cycle most of the time there are only one or two playable in a given constructed format. Doing all this gave me a chance to make use of all the big cycles I liked without thought to format competitiveness.

The earliest build of the cube was in fact a lot heavier on cycles but quite a few got removed to make way for more archetype cards and to increase the power level in general.

That original build also had set amounts of different rarities of cards of each colour, a concept rapidly abandoned.

Titans

The first decision I made on the cube and it’s play style was that I wanted it to be big and splashy, more intended for games to go long and be full of commander style shenanigans.

In part I wanted the cube to be approachable to people who only play occasionally or very casually so the archetypes are all fairly direct (see a tribal lord, pick up cards of the same type etc) and some of the traditional cube staples like twin don’t really work for that.

With that in mind some of the first cards I picked to go in were the M11 titans. Anyone who knows the basic rules can read one of the titans and say “that’s powerful, I’ll take that first” and be happy with that pick later on. They’re also popular with experienced players and fit in any deck in the colour.

I also include an honourable mention colourless bonus card in this cycle: Wurmcoil Engine. It maintains the CMC 6, 6/6 mythic with powerful ability stats and it’s something I remember as part of that standard along with the titans (I jammed 4 in damn near every deck I played except bad RDW).

As a fun aside this is also something I’m fond of from a pimp perspective as I have an alt art version of each titan (don’t have the Wurmcoil Engine promo yet). The Grave Titan promo is in fact the card that brought me back into playing magic after many years off. A friend was playing the original Duels of the Planeswalkers on steam and I jumped in out of curiosity and got the ad for the promo real cards…I soon found a new LGS where I picked up way more than I intended to including the Grave Titan promo. I then spent most of the next three years in there until the shop sadly closed.

Star Dragons

Rolling back to the first time I played the game, Kamigawa block, I wanted to include the Star Dragon cycle. These ones haven’t aged as well as the titan cycle but they still pack a reasonable punch.

Kokusho in particular was a favourite of mine back in the day and one of the few things I got back then that was still in any particular way playable when I came back, once we passed the “what the hell is this” phase when I brought out my old decks (they were terrible but we all go through that phase).

I like to think that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is an honorary member of this team.

Khans

When I was building the early versions of the cube I was drafting Khans of Tarkir   multiple times a week so I picked up a liking for 3 colour shenanigans.

There are, at present, almost no face down (morph or manifest) cards in the cube even though I’m a huge tarkir fan as for a while I planned a second cube including every face down or face down matters card ever printed. I had an attack of sanity however and that idea faded into the background. In the near future I shall probably add some in.

The Khans do fit fairly nicely into what these colour groups want to be doing such as Narset sitting between Spellslinging (UR) and Temp (UW).

Guild Leaders

The Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash mythic legendary creatures come from a time I played in a weekly standard league where I actually (unlike a lot here) played quite a lot of this cycle at one time or another, so this is another cycle with some memories for me.

Trostani was my favourite card in my Conjurer’s Closet flicker deck (it was very much like the reanimator deck just replacing Advent of the Wurm with Armada Wurm and the reanimation package with some more ramp and Conjurer’s Closet).

Niv-Mizzet was one of the value engine/win con cards in the UWR midrange deck I used occasionally (and more often loaned out). It was way more creature heavy than many of the decks in those colours at the time (it ran Snapcaster Mage, Boros Reckoner, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius and some other value creatures on top of 4 Bonfire of the Damned and 4 Mizzium Mortars…take THAT aggro decks).

I attempted (and failed) many times to build a GB zombies deck, but I did get some fun wins sacrificing Thragtusks to Jarad, Golgari Lich lord. Some early (bad) versions of my vampire tribal deck ran Rakdos, Lord of Riots as a big beater before I got better cards.

Prime Speaker Zegana joined Trostani later on in RTR-Theros in a bant deck I made around Ajani, Mentor of Heroes (and Armada Wurm again). I also played a pretty standard BW midrange during RTR-Theros with Obzedat, Ghost Council (although blood baron was my favourite). Aurelia was in my first commander deck (Kaalia of the Vast, I’ve dismantled it since as I grew to find it a little too linear to keep amusing me, eventually I plan to make it into Zurgo Helmsmasher….with Aurelia again).

Lava, Borborygmos and Isperia are the only ones I never really made much use of.

Maze Runners

While I’ve played less with these than their Mythic counterparts I still quite like them and a fair few fit very nicely into their matching archetype (not that I’m that strict on cards having to match archetypes, especially in a big cube like this, plenty of room for just fun cards).

This is also the only cycle I’ve included where one (and possibly soon a second) is subbed out for a different card.

Melek, Varolz, Lavinia, Vorel, Ruric Thar, Tajic and to a lesser extent Teysa all fit into their matching themed deck. Mirko doesn’t really fit either his tribe or the theme but is a viable win condition in a control UR deck as all you need to do is hit a couple of times and you could conceivably in from there by stalling out the game.

Exava is on the chopping block at the moment as her ability just doesn’t work AT ALL with the other cards in these colours, which is a shame as I like her. She’ll probably be swapped with something else soon, possibly (another Innistrad 2 wishlist item here) for a new RB vampire legend to buddy up with Olivia.

This leaves the elephant in the room (or more accurately the turd in the booster pack)…You can probably see this coming a mile away…Emmara Tandris…I just can’t do it. Even though her ability actually fits the GW deck the only way shed get in is if I proxied a “fixed” version perhaps with “Affinity for Token Creatures” or with dramatically toned down cost and stats, maybe a 2GW 2/2 or even push her into a GW 1/1 (dies to everything but none of your other stuff does). But for now I don’t want to really play around with errata so she doesn’t make the cut. Her replacement is a favourite of mine, Tolsimir Wolfblood.

RTR Guildmages

The Return to Ravnica Guildmages are mostly in as fun multi colour cards but for the most part they do actually fit the themes of the decks they would be in. Duskmantle is the only one that really stands out as not being part of the deck.

The Pantheon

All 15 of the gods of theros are in the cube. There’s not a lot to say here except this was a cycle where I liked enough of them individually that I decided to put in the lot. There is a little archetype crossover in the minor gods (Iroas and Pharika spring most to mind but many of them fit tangentially into the decks such as Xenagos in Gruul ramp…doesnt directly ramp you but make everything you cast just that bit better). It’s only really Phenax who stands out as wrong as there are only really her and Mirko-Vosk as enemy mill, but like the maze runner she can be a mill deck win condition in a can.

It saddens me to this day that Chromanticore, god of Jank-ass 5 colour decks could be neither Legendary nor a God. Perhaps its for the best though, that double height type line would have been nasty. Maybe he could have been the first landscape orientation non split magic card. Now THERES a proxy.

Weapons of the Gods

This cycle made it in largely due to my irrational love for Whip of Erebos. Seriously I didn’t play a swamp for two years without a pair of these in the 75. And it’s in every black commander deck I play. And the cube.

Spear of Heliod is something I at least experimented with in standard. For a couple of weeks I ran a version of mono blue devotion that splashed white for a pair of Spear of Heliod and a set of Azorius Charms. The idea was that the Spear would keep my tokens alive when Master of Waves inevitably bit the dust. It was just slightly too clunky to work, as were most “splash a colour for x” versions of “hopelessly devoted to U” (come on wizards, bring back the silly deck names). Bident of course made it into all my versions of the same deck because why wouldn’t it.

Bow and Hammer are among the first cards in these cycles to purely be here for completion, not that either are terrible cards, they just don’t appeal to me that much personally.

Ascendancies

Another leftover from my massive amount of KTK drafts is my love for the ascendancy cycle. Mechanically I like what they all do but more than that they all, for me at least, define in a single card what each clan is all about. If you showed someone familiar with the game these 5 cards long before KTK was spoiled they could probably work out a lot both mechanically and thematically about the set which I think is quite cool. I’m a big fan of cards which kind of tell a story just through one card in isolation (not necessarily counting flavour text) and I’ve always thought these do well at that (the single best example of single card storytelling is of course…Desert Wooder).

Zeniths

The zenith cycles inclusion comes from the presence of Green Sun’s in FTV 20. I had a pair and had no real use for it as it was banned in modern and I wouldn’t want to run it outside of mono green commander (which I don’t have).

RSZ was also a card I was quite fond of (recurring fireball is never bad). The rest just slotted in nicely. USZ is just a big draw spell, nothing controversial there. BSZ is a great control card and WSZ fitted into the WG tokens deck.

I considered including an altered Lightning Shrieker, bearing the new name I gave it but sadly Dragon Sun’s Zenith wasn’t really good enough to make the cut.

Charms

The 10 guild charms and the 10 shard/wedge charms were all pretty much auto includes. The former in the very first build of the cube and the latter as soon as I decided to have the small set of cards in each 3 colour combination.

Of them all the only one that has any real personal significance is Izzet Charm, both one of my favourite cards and the only card I ever won a full playset of over a month of FNMs (it was also one of my favourite FNM promos so that was a nice month for me).

I think they’re all good to some degree and it’s nice to throw in some cards that give people more options in game, plus modal spells are almost never dead but still give you some of the niche effects of things like situational counter spells and narrow removal without being dead cards without the targets. I considered the dragon lords charms as well but those 15 card guild coloured sections are already chock full with more cards I want to include.

Swords of Chalk and Cheese

For me the swords hold a special place as the only set of cards I missed out on twice. As mentioned earlier when I first started playing the game it was Kamigawa block so I just missed out on the original swords, and as I didn’t spend much on singles then I ended up seeing them as the cool powerful cards I just couldn’t get my hands on.

When I returned to the game it was just before M12 game day so I had once again missed the boat on the new swords. I know I could have just ponied up and bought them but playing standard at the time there was always something else I needed for the league that bumped them down the list. It was only around the release of BFZ that I ever obtained a set and it was specifically to go in here.

Under Consideration: Tarkir Elder Dragons

Four of the cards in this cycle are almost definite shoe-ins. Dromoka and Silumgar are both rock solid cards despite not overly fitting into the archetypes. Ojutai is a fantastic tempo card/control finisher for UW and Atarka would make a great top end ramp target for the RG deck.

The thing is however that it would annoy me greatly to have the 4 cards without the fifth to complete the cycle and Kolaghan has an issue. Although it’s base stats and first ability are fine something severely bugs me about the concept of having a card in the cube where a significant chunk of the text is non functional. I may buckle under anyway and include it but it will be with a slight persistent sense of irritation.

(Commence Ramble: I did hear maro discussing this on his podcast and while I do understand his point that Legendary Creatures are not solely for commander I sort of feel that one member of a cycle of mythic legends which are obviously going to be desirable commanders isn’t necessarily the place for that logic. I would probably feel better about that ability if it were some random standalone guy or a creature which was obviously pushed to fill a role in standard or modern but to me Kologhan sticks out as out of place among the cycle).

Under Consideration: Manlands

The original plan for the cube was for ten two colour archetypes, five mono colour tribal sub themes and a multicolour artifact deck. Over time Iv’e cut back the mono colour tribal elements (as I go through each archetype they shall probably gradually fall back out of the cube…Zombies have become a full two colour deck, elves have been purged as a theme, I could never decide between merfolk and faeries for blue and that leaves goblins in red and soldiers in white and they shall probably become a supported sub theme of the RW aggro/battalion deck) to the point they effectively no longer exist. The artifact deck is rapidly fizzling out as in my tests I just can’t make it a viable thing without screwing up the actual proper archetypes.

There is an alternative option I’m considering which is making artifacts the UR mechanic but this would most likely be a lot of shoehorning to allow me to keep a couple of pet cards in (Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Atog, Megatog, Whirler Rogue etc).

Another concern is that the current mana fixing setup of Duals, Shocks, Fetches and Trilands doesn’t seem to appear quite enough for a heavy multicolour cube of this size.

This all leads me to the conclusion that I shall likely strip the artifact theme out and reduce it to just “some good artifacts that go anywhere” and use some of those slots to add an extra cycle of lands. I considered filters or temples but in light of the completion of the dual colour manland cycle I shall likely include these.

Broken Cycles

Although I clearly like to include whole cycles, perhaps to slightly to high a degree, there are a few isolated cards that came out of cycles.

The most prominent is Cryptic Command. That card in particular is one I like due to it’s inclusion in my modern UW Geist of Saint Traft deck but the others were from the time I was out of the game and don’t have any particular resonance with me.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Sheoldred, Whispering One are both in but the remaining praetors haven’t really made the cut. I was considering Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger until I remembered that the card I was actually thinking of was Omnath, Locus of Mana.