Cultivating Community Feedback

Written by Phil Stanton on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

Cultivating Community Feedback

Phil Stanton

Phil has played since Alliances, including a stint as a Vintage writer in 2004-05. Now he passes cards in a circle at every opportunity and makes endless changes to his cube. He lives in Urbana, Ill., and can be reached on Twitter @drsylvan.

Editor’s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Selesnya theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles populated with the green-white guild to join our regular features. And don’t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.

In honor of Selesnya week, I want to talk about interacting with the community that every cube owner cultivates around his or her cube. As Mark Rosewater explained during the original Selesnya week on DailyMTG.com, “Both white and green work towards building their community because they understand that enlarging it gives them power.”

Personal dynamics of each playgroup aside, players’ feedback and the cube owner’s response are a key interaction that binds the group together. It invests everyone in crafting the experience that they’ll play from draft to draft.

Part of every feedback-collection strategy depends on the cube’s update cycle, as well as how frequently it gets played and whether repeat players are always or usually present. Those three variables define how quickly everyone expects feedback will actually result in changes to the cube. It also matters how many cards are in the cube, how many are replaced in a given update, and to what degree the changes are driven by data.

My rapid-rotation strategy of 20 or more changes per week in a cube of just less than 500 cards makes it laborious just to decide what’s in my cube each week and track the contents. I’ve had to pick my battles and skip other data gathering. Much of the data would be shaky anyway because every draft would be affected by new inclusions.

Most cube owners work on a less deranged update calendar and use some system to determine which cards to change, usually focusing on what to cut. There are now so many Magic cards that it’s rare to have a shortage of cards waiting for a chance to be included. But trimming cards is every cube owner’s public masochism.

  • The simplest data-gathering method I’ve seen is each player ditching the last pick from each pack. This is a good way to see what the group considers unplayable, and a three-strike policy would be a reasonably accurate indicator of the weakest cards. The quick method is strongest for an update cycle centered on quarterly set releases with weekly or biweekly drafting in between. It gives time for the same cards to appear in the draft and have multiple chances to go last.
  • Another approach is to ask for more direct input, when each player can nominate a card to cut. This is more complex because it requires more distinction among reasons why the cards were nominated. Players play for different reasons. Some (me) will nominate a very powerful card like Umezawa’s Jitte because it’s too swingy and reduces the fun, while someone else will nominate Ironclaw Orcs because it isn’t good enough. Nominated cuts have the added drawback that it’s more contentious when you don’t agree with someone’s suggestion. It’s most compatible with a relatively frequent, small rotation.
  • A more intense option is to retain intact decks and sideboards after the draft to compile them. If I had the opportunity to collect more data, I would analyze what on-color cards the most skillful players left in their sideboards. First-time drafters of my cube might not produce high-quality data. Unlike the last-pick analysis, where the whole table passed the card, deckbuilding reflects the individual.

Given infinite time, I would compare the mana curves of decks in each color pair to their representation in the cube and any number of other absurdly detailed metrics (creature count, nonbasic lands, etc.) Any gray-haired Vintage players in the audience may recall this is sort of my modus operandi. Analysis of this detail is probably best left to the Magic Online cube developers, whom hopefully will use it to choose cards more intelligently in the near future. For normal cube development, this style strikes me as only appropriate for a mature cube where only a few cards change at a time, or as a one-time effort following a large overhaul. One way to limit the time-consuming analysis would be to focus on the most unusual deck, the X-0 decks, or decks in a concerning color pair.

In my finite cube time, I prefer to primarily discuss the draft, which should complement any of the mechanisms above. Discussion benefits you for two reasons. Either the players have drafted your cube before, resulting in some baseline understanding of your vision and interest in its evolution. Or they haven’t drafted your cube, and they can tell you how it feels to walk in blind. Either way, a little chatter during a no-stakes cube draft can provide valuable input. After the draft, you can discuss picks and what was going through their mind.

During the matches, you can observe cards that are fun or miserable, and ask about the games you didn’t see. Even the pace of games informs card selection. When most players weren’t casting two-mana creatures in my cube, it contributed to reducing the average toughness of midrange creatures so 2/2s mattered more. Imagine how much information Mark Rosewater, feedback glutton that he is, would get if he were present at every draft of a set he had designed. Ask yourself: Why aren’t you learning that much?

What’s more important, though, is showing your regular players that their feedback matters. I change cards in my cube at a somewhat frenetic pace partly so that when players recommend cards to cut or add, I’m not using the one heartbreaking change I managed to make that week to add something I don’t love. The other 20 changes can be to implement my own agenda. When you show up next week running the card they requested, or telling the group they’re free from the scourge of Card X, they’ll volunteer more. I don’t take every suggestion, but even discussing something you end up not doing can bring up other, better ideas and make the cube feel like a shared project.

Bonus: Underplayed Selesnya Cards

Below are an assortment of more obscure cards from non-Ravnica sets that promote the creature-heavy, token-oriented strategy of the Selesnya guild. I tried not to name many cube staples, so these cards obviously aren’t at the top of the power curve. Your mileage may vary.

Common: Acorn Harvest, Ambassador Oak, Attended Knight, Chatter of the Squirrel, Grazing Gladehart, Griffin Protector, Herd Gnarr, Khalni Garden, Might of the Masses, Team Spirit.

Uncommon: Algae Gharial, Battle Screech, Bramblesnap, Canopy Crawler, Centaur Chieftain, Centaur Glade, Crusader of Odric, Fungal Sprouting, Jade Mage, Juniper Order Ranger.

Rare/Mythic: Asmira, Holy Avenger, Call of the Herd, Citanul Hierophants, Fangren Firstborn, Feral Throwback, Forgotten Ancient, Gelatinous Genesis, Muraganda Petroglyphs, Spellbane Centaur, Symbiotic Deployment.

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