Editor”s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Izzet theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles about the red-blue guild to join our regular features. And don”t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.
Theme cubes are some of the least explored territory in our niche of the Magic world, and can yield some of the strangest environments in Magic. While traditional booster products have had strong mechanical themes since Invasion, a cube can focus much more tightly on artifacts; combo engines and enablers; or even one-drops.
The downside of theme cubes is that it adds to the labor and investment of cube ownership and maintenance. Magic is a luxury-priced hobby, and while many cube devotees invest in downright opulent versions of their selected cards, everyone has some kind of budget cap. It”s not far-fetched that developing a whole second cube would be the point at which many heavily invested Magic players would have to draw that line. Even if it were affordable, the theme cube might overlap with the main list in some substantial part, demanding duplicate copies or shifting cards from one box to another, not to mention the card sleeves. And let”s be honest: cube owners are way too degenerate to dismantle their main cube for even the most enticing side project.
After defining the problem that two cubes is too much but still wanting to experiment, I”ve been working on “modules” to swap into my cube, transforming it temporarily into a kind of theme cube. I imagined it as analogous to taking the Odyssey/Onslaught/Innistrad draft that my cube usually represents, and changing one of each player”s packs to Mirrodin or Alara Reborn.
Izzet Week seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss radical experimentation, so I”ve outlined my first attempt to plan a module: Enchantments. There probably aren”t even enough strong enchantments to make an enchantment module for traditional cubes, but I deliberately chose a difficult-to-include theme so I”d run into more issues while describing the process.
The Enchantment Module
Past efforts to add Auras and/or enchantments as a draft archetype for green and white have fallen a bit short. I tried to treat Three Dreams and Kor Spiritdancer as build-around cards to define a deck, but it didn”t stick. I added connections between enchantments and the graveyard theme that”s at the core of my cube with Nomad Mythmaker, Auramancer and Monk Idealist. It just didn”t cohere into a deck. Even making a special effort to draft it myself in hopes of illustrating the potential, the opportunity never seemed ripe. With the module concept as a mechanism to add far more than the 30ish cards I use to add a strategy to one color pair, I went back to the drawing board to consider what I wanted an enchantment theme to accomplish.
Enchantments are some of my favorite cards. My high school masterpiece deck, a WBRG control trainwreck, centered on the Sylvan Library/Abundance combo. (All the cool kids abused replacement effect interactions back in the day.) My favorite unplayable Vintage deck is Enchantress control — not the Extended combo version that could win before Turn 20; Sacred Mesa is the only permissible win condition. The appeal of these cards is along the lines of certain artifacts, like Static Orb or Ensnaring Bridge, that set the rules in a weird parallel universe which only you expected to play in. Deeper in most players” history, unless they currently use Uril, the Miststalker as their Commander, is the Voltron phase, wherein we all tried to assemble an unwieldy monstrosity with Aura upon Aura.
Beyond that, though, Limited is about playing with cards you”d never glance at otherwise, and theme cubing is the opportunity to bring some of the worst, most obscure cards to the forefront. Lab Rats in Glenn Jones” one-drop cube is an inspiration, and I wanted to find a parallel to that level of contextual quality improvement.
Phased-Out Isn”t Forever
Since this is intended to be a temporary substitution, I considered the mobile casino familiar aspect from my normal cube maintenance: What would I cut in order to swap in this new module? At first I was going to divide the existing cube into its core and peripheral chunks that exist to promote certain strategies. The first of two dealbreakers for that approach was that I had done my previous work too well, so large swathes of cards were connected to several of the strategies, and the lines were blurry between any given segment. Dealbreaker number two was how terribly enchantments lined up with any chunk I cared to consider.
Based on my earlier failures, I concluded that enchantments” biggest challenge is a lack of built-in creatures, compared to how prevalent artifact creatures are in artifact-focused sets. Lucent Liminid is one-of-a-kind. Urza”s Saga block, which was actually an enchantment block if you look back at the designers” intent instead of just the famously casino online broken cards, incorporated workarounds for this. The primary one was enchantments like Hidden Spider, Veiled Serpent, Opal Caryatid and Lurking Jackals that turned into creatures permanently when their trigger condition was met. These cards would never be printed at common today because type-changing is so fraught with rules issues, and because the invisibility of the change creates memory issues. Worse, they trigger on the opponent casting spells, promoting a stagnant board state — a fancy phrase for “boring.” I saw the type-changers as a last resort based on that, and also put the Licids in the “avoid” pile.
The dearth of enchantment creatures meant that what came out should be disproportionately non-creature cards, as well as categories of cards that incidentally hose Auras, like instant removal and bounce effects. I decided that each card coming in should be as close as possible to what would come out, but that I didn”t care if each color received a different number of replacements. This was to reduce the time spent selecting cuts, since theoretically this process would occur repeatedly over time, and the main cube list would be different on each occasion. Comparable swaps also mitigate the risk that the transformation might shift the cube into a clunky, unplayable configuration, such as unbalancing the mana curves. The exact cards in my list that I replaced aren”t particularly important; the idea of replacing a similar effect is more important than my naming Galvanic Arc as a fit for Lightning Blast.
Having settled on the approach, I got to the real meat of the project: Identifying the cards whose additions en masse would radically change the cube. My starting point was a combination of the cards mentioned from my past efforts, as well as every enchantress effect I could find. The Enchantress”s Presence text is the signature effect of enchantment-focused Constructed decks, because drawing a card every time you do anything feels awesome. I added Recycle, Null Profusion, Yawgmoth”s Bargain and Future Sight, to introduced more cards that would feel similar in play, especially in more colors. Obviously a lot of enchantment-centric stuff will gravitate to white and green, so promoting it in other colors was a high priority to make the theme felt by all players. I especially wanted this tier of cards to be among the most powerful in the draft so the enchantment theme wouldn”t get buried under known favorites.
My distaste for the type-changing cards discussed above didn”t stop me from looking for ways enchantments could emulate creatures. Real sets have scattered small doses of these throughout Magic”s history, and I wanted to capture the best parts. The highest priority was enchantments that players could run as creatures: The Genju and Zendikon cycles (such as Genju of the Falls and Crusher Zendikon), plus Still Life and Halcyon Glaze. Token-factory enchantments like Mobilization and Centaur Glade (already in the regular cube list) function similarly, so adding more (Sacred Mesa, Midsummer Revel, Dragon Roost) expands the effect.
Trying to duplicate the effects of spells or certain creatures that rarely attack led me to removal like Crackling Club, Fire Whip, Dizzying Gaze, Sicken, Flowstone Blade, Mystic Restraints, Lingering Death and Torture; combat tricks (Flaming Sword, Eel Umbra); and a clone (Dance of Many). There are a couple of famous cycles like the Seals (Seal of Doom, Seal of Primordium) and the Ravnica enter-the-battlefield Auras (Strands of Undeath, Fists of Ironwood) that were explicitly designed to act as spell replacements. Some spells were best replaced by land Auras (Hostile Realm, Barbed Field). I”ve always used Trade Routes and Compulsion and opted to replace a creature looter with Mental Discipline. While I wanted to reduce bounce effects, I included Phantom Wings and Disappear.
After spending most of my effort mirroring the existing cube with enchantments to trigger all the enchantresses, I took the slots of the effects being deliberately cut to add enchantment-specific interactions. Self-recurring Auras like Cessation and Fiery Mantle as well as Aura-referencing Magemarks (Fencer”s Magemark) add an aspect that plays differently from equipment. Bramble Elemental, Aura Gnarlid and Yavimaya Enchantress don”t draw cards, but certainly operate in the same vein encouraging enchantment use. Drake Familiar, Academy Researchers and Iridescent Drake rounded out this category.
I finally found my Lab Rats equivalent when I remembered Fractured Loyalty. I actually played this long-forgotten card in the 2004 Vintage World Championship as sideboard technology for my burn deck against Tinker into Darksteel Colossus (Lightning Bolt is really bad against Tinker, in case you were unaware). But in an Aura-heavy draft environment, there”s an above-average set of cards that target a creature without killing it when they resolve. The possibility of a tug-of-war using multiple Auras to repeatedly steal the Loyalty”s target sounds really fun, if somewhat unlikely.
The last piece was to consider risks created by this module that might endanger fun games. Since I was cutting instant removal and bounce to protect Aura-augmented creatures that might gain regeneration, toughness, or vigilance, I felt some concern that I was reducing opportunities to get through damage. I sprinkled a few Falter effects in as insurance. Also, many of the added cards give incentives to run more land, especially the token factories and Genju cycle, leading me to add a handful of creatures with Landfall abilities (Cosi”s Ravager, Caustic Crawler). This was one of the more tangential ideas, but it makes an important point: Limited themes are best when they”re reinforced with some less direct support.
I still have to convince (possibly strongarm) my cubing group into trying the new enchantment module, but I hope that this example sparks some ideas for everyone else to consider.
Bonus: Underplayed Izzet Cards
As with my Selesnya and Azorius suggestions, these cards are probably weaker than a lot of the cards in most cubes. If they were comparably powerful, they wouldn”t be obscure. There”s something to be said for Meteor Shower, though, for all-common (and maybe some uncommon) cubes, which lack most mass removal options. It”s no Rolling Thunder, but it can have far more board impact than most commons.
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