Battle Box: It’s Morphin’ Time!

Written by Administrator on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube, Kitchen Table

A while back I wrote an article discussing an exciting entry into Magic’s many alternative formats, Battle Box.  I do not want to spend too much time rehashing what I have already said about the format (or what Ben Stark and creator Brian Dumars have said), instead I will give a quick breakdown of the format.

Battle Box Breakdown:

  • A Battle Box is a collection of cards that are roughly even in power level. The numbers of individual cards in a battle box will vary, but at least 200 cards is the best place to begin. This will allow for multiple games without reusing the same cards too consistently. Mine is currently over 300, while others are far larger.
  • Each player is given ten lands: 1 of each basic land, and 1 of each allied guildgate. Players may play one land per turn. There are no lands in the Battle Box beyond these. There will also be no land destruction/disruption in the box.
  • Separate a similarly sized stack of cards into two decks. The Danger Room variant sticks with one deck, but cards like Preordain require two decks. Scrying and deck manipulation is much more difficult when every card is a spell, so I hate to lose out on them by using a combined library.
  • Each player starts with four cards in hand. This may sound low, but if you start with more than this, you will end up discarding cards by turns four or five in games with like-minded individuals.
  • While I mentioned that the cards should be even in power level, the power level is a personal decision. Demars suggests cards that are easy first picks in draft that aren’t exactly bombs. Personally, I have tried to stick with effects that don’t surpass Mulldrifter in overall value. The idea is that there shouldn’t be cards like Sphinx’s Revelation to make games lopsided. This rejects a number of popular build around cube favorites, but it makes for consistent game play.

As I made abundantly clear in my first piece on the format, I’m a big fan. I’m a screaming teenage girl, “please Mr. Battle Box can I have your autograph?” type of fan.  For this reason, new set releases have become even more enjoyable. Not only do we get a shakeup of Standard (and every eternal format if Khans of Tarkir was any indication), but now I get to dig through the sets looking for cards that will add something interesting to the Battle Box. If you have ever discussed cube additions and enjoyed testing new cards, then you know how fun this can be.

After the release of Khans of Tarkir, I had a number of people ask me if I would be including the morph mechanic in the box.  I was wary at first to include this mechanic. While most cubes include at least a few morphs (Willbender for sure) they are pretty easy to discern in a game. I felt that this probably would be magnified if people were familiar enough with the Battle Box list.

With this in mind, I turned to Gatherer. A search for creatures with the morph mechanic returned an impressive and diverse list. Additionally, the Onslaught block is one of my favorite blocks of all time, which meant that plenty of these cards hit that nostalgic sweet spot. Of course nostalgia isn’t a good reason to include a card. What I was really surprised to see was that many of the older morph creatures synced up very well with Tarkir’s newer options. The design choices for morph in Tarkir resulted in most of the morphs costing more than five (if they were large creatures). This stopped players from having too many feel bad moments in Khans of Tarkir limited.  Interestingly, this decision reduced the amount of morph triggers seen in Tarkir. Yes you have the common gold cycle, and the uncommon cycle with triggers, but take a look at the original series. Many of the cheaper morph cards have common spells attached with their morph costs. As I started to compile a list, I noticed that many of the morphs lined up well cost wise. Additionally, there were enough unique effects that I felt confident they would add to the Battle Box experience.

So I compiled a list of morphs from all across the Magic timeline and weaned it down to roughly 30 cards. I felt that this was enough so that one wouldn’t be able to immediately guess the morph their opponent had. Interestingly enough, the manabase also helped to mask the morphs. Cube and other draft formats tend to limit your ability to bluff a morph. This is why cards like Zombie Cutthroat are exciting, because they trade for a different, easier to bluff, resource. In testing, morph creatures were more exciting than I initially thought because it gave more intrigue into the sequencing of lands. I know, boring things excite me, come at me bro!!!

Anyways, here is the list of morphs that made the cut (out of a possible 156 Gatherer entries, give or take a few things named Metamorph…)

Hopefully, a theme in choices becomes apparent. Essentially no truly vanilla morphs made it in. The closest ones (Snowhorn Rider, Zombie Cutthroat, Gathan Raiders) all have unique power and toughness for the Box, or they flip in unique scenarios. Additionally, while perusing the list, the variety in morph costs (both mana and otherwise) becomes very compelling. No longer is figuring out what morph your opponent just played as easy as looking at the colors of their lands.

The other issue here was making sure that none of the morphs break the overall power level of the box. There are a number of rare morphs (especially from the Time Spiral block) that have crazy and unique effects. These cards however reduce the fun inherent in morphs. To this end, you can see this phenomenon in Khans of Tarkir limited. Many of the gold morph creatures are so good, and players are quick to kill them. In Battle Box, the fun of morphs would significantly lessen if they were generally always better than the face up creatures in play. So far, this list has made it so the morph creatures are good, without being so disruptive that they must die on sight. The only asterisk here is placed upon Voidmage Prodigy. Go figure, Kai Budde might be too good. The real issue is that there are a large number of wizard creatures in the overall list. There have been some board states where a pseudo lock has happened. I haven’t cut it yet, mainly because it strangles a player’s blue mana sources, but it may not be a permanent fixture in the box.

Overall, morph has been a positive addition to the box. Variety is the flavor of life, so they say, so obviously you should adjust your list to how you see fit. Obviously cards like Akroma, Angel of Fury probably don’t have a place in any box, but you may find that Bane of the Living is the wrath spell your list wants. I encourage you to experiment to find what feels fun and complex.


As I already mentioned, with each new set comes a new list of cards to pore over. Fate Reforged goes a step further with the addition of the manifest mechanic. Manifest is an interesting ability that allows you to utilize your library as a different resource than you might normally. Manifest also plays uniquely with morph (morph being the descendent of manifest on Tarkir, so to speak). My interest was piqued, and I began testing manifest immediately. One of the more interesting interactions with manifest is how bounce spells allow for incredible turn setups. Being able to bounce a key spell to your hand after manifesting it is awesome.

Evaluating which cards with manifest to include has been troublesome though. The fact that there are no lands in your library automatically makes manifest incredibly powerful, so cards like Wildcall can be utterly broken. So far, the cards have been interesting, with Ethereal Ambush being incredibly powerful.

I have also tried to evaluate the various manifest auras, and have chosen to include Lightform and Rageform currently. Cloudform is awesome, but hexproof has shown itself to be too good in the format.


Here are the manifest cards I opted to add:

Obviously this isn’t many, but they are really interesting and skill testing. If you think there is another I should really consider though, please let me know in the comments!

Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged really helped to reinvigorate an old mechanic while adding something wildly new. Beyond this though, I did add a few other awesome cards from both sets. I will go ahead and add a link to my cubetutor – and add the list on this piece so you can see what changes I have made. I have gotten to see a number of great boxes since writing about the first time, so please let me know if you created a unique/crazy/personal list!

Thanks for reading!

– Mike Keknee




The lone 5 color card that I had no idea how to format so I put it here

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