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Guild of Ravnica, Battle Box, and You!

Written by Mike Keknee on . Posted in Casual Magic

Guild of Ravnica, Battle Box, and You!

Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee is a Magic grinder from the Columbus area. He has managed to put together a solid resume with four StarCityGames Open top 8s, including a win, as well as a Pro Tour appearance. He is also a co-host of the At Your End Step podcast available on iTunes and MTGCast.

It’s finally that time of year. The weather is cooling down, pumpkin spice is being added to all sorts of things it shouldn’t be, and Magic the Gathering is tapping its richest vein: Ravnica. The multicolor guild design of Ravnica blocks always make for happy cubers and alternative formats players of all ilks. As a longtime cultivator of the Battle Box format, I can say that Guilds of Ravnica (and the next two Ravnica sets!) have me excited. I realized that I hadn’t updated the Battle Box, and so today I will discuss the new Guilds of Ravnica adds, and some philosophy changes to my overall list.

If you are reading this first paragraph and do not know what a Battle Box is, then that’s ok! I will share the original tenets I have used before. All credit goes to Brian Demars and Ben Stark for being the ones who really piqued my interest in the format.

What’s in the (Battle) Box?

  • 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 400, 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 gameplay.
  • The only cards that break this rule are wrath effects. There need to be a few to address aggressive draws. Make sure players know that they are in the box, so players can adjust accordingly.
  • Lastly, you play Magic.

What’s Changed?

It has been a while since I have written about my Battle Box, but I have had a number of people ask for updates. The last major change I discussed was adding morph cards in the wake of the Khans of Tarkir block. So it’s, uh, been a while. Rather than break all of my changes down, here is my current list (sans Guilds of Ravnica, but that will change shortly).

Mike Keknee’s Battle Box List

There are still some things that remain a bit lopsided about my take on the box. Part of that is that, in my desire to avoid too many of the same generic effects, red and green are both a bit underrepresented as single colors. Wizards has done a good job in recent sets of adding some unique red effects, and I am always on the hunt for something a bit different.  Additionally, blue cards tend to offer unique interaction points that other colors don’t really have a way to replicate. This means that blue is still the most common color in the box.

Luckily, the issue of color disparity is not really a problem. This isn’t a cube, and you aren’t looking to draft or build a deck here. You do want to encounter a solid mix of cards in a given game, especially when you max out at three for any given color of mana per turn, but overall, the higher percentage of blue cards mostly leads to more players choosing Azorius Guildgate as their first play.

The fact that this isn’t a cube means that I rarely have to make very difficult decisions. Sometimes cards easily replace other cards, but more often, I just add whatever without needing to worry about true balance. Also, I sometimes add cards with a questionable power level as well. I generally just play some games with those cards in the opener just to see if they are overbearing. Overall, one of the great freedoms of the format is just getting to add exciting cards – cue Guilds of Ravnica.

Guilds of Ravnica Additions

Guilds of Ravnica has many great cards just waiting to be added to Battle Boxes all around the globe. Below are the cards that I plan to add this time around. As I said, not all cards warrant cuts, but the ones that do will be explained.

Add: Conclave Tribunal – Cut: Oblivion Ring

This seems like an easy upgrade. I could just add here, but there are a number of these effects in the box already. While Oblivion Ring feels like a bit of a sacred cow, the addition of convoke makes Tribunal pretty enticing.

Add: Citywatch Sphinx – Cut: NA

I have been looking for a better top end blue creature for a while. Horizon Scholar was fine initially, but I eventually cut it for Angler Drake. Angler Drake proved to be too good in the long run however, so I cut it as well. Citywatch Sphinx adds a crucial point of power that makes it a bit more robust. Additionally, the surveil trigger happening upon death allows you to recover from losing such a lofty mana investment.

Add: Book Devourer – Cut: NA

As I already mentioned, red is constantly looking for unique effects, and the hungry hungry caterpillar fits the bill. Trample is the key to this being a solid card for the Battle Box. While the format is balanced by players always drawing spells, sometimes narrow cards get stranded in your hand. This card lets you get some free cycling in while possible enabling some graveyard shenanigans.

Add: Erratic Cyclops – Cut: NA

Another unique card gets a chance in red. This one is a bit more tentative due its dangerous power level. I feel like this card’s raw power will be mitigated by the high quality of removal in the box. Erratic Cyclops could also turn out to be a dud because it’s a terrible draw when you are low on cards. I am excited to try it, even if it ultimately gets the axe.

Add: Goblin Cratermaker – Cut: Manic Vandal, Ember Hauler

Artifact and enchantment removals spells are tricky to balance in the box. They need to be present in some amount, but if they are too narrow, then they rot in players’ hands. Manic Vandal was already on the fringe of the box, and now there is finally a cleaner answer. Ember Hauler too is pretty mana intensive, so the new goblin gets to clean house and replace two fairly mediocre cards.

Add: Sprouting Renewal – Cut: Sundering Growth

As mentioned above, narrow artifact and enchantment removal is tough to correctly incorporate in the box. Sundering Growth is a card that has the support to be very powerful, but Sprouting Renewal just gives players more options. Convoke also allows for some techy and exciting plays.

Add: Boros Challenger – Cut: NA

One of the problems with battle box is that your early drops need to remain relevant later in a game while also not entirely dominating the early game. This is why cards like Kurd Ape and Loam Lion were cut from my list recently. Boros Challenger threads that needle pretty cleanly. Mentor helps a bunch of small tokens and creatures get in early, and its ability ensures that a player will have something to spend their mana on later in the game.

Add: Crackling Drake – Cut: NA

This is a scary one that will need tested, but I love this card too much to not include it. This card is dangerous because Battle Box is inherently a slow and grindy format. Drawing this card late in the game is already a great two for one, that may happen to have 10 or more power. Much like Erratic Cyclops, I am hoping that this is mitigated by the power of the removal in the format. I hope it gets to stay in because this is all I have ever wanted in a “spells matter” card.

Add: House Guildmage – Cut: NA

None of the Dimir guildmages have made it into the box so far. Repeatable discard isn’t a fun effect, and milling is practically useless in Battle Box. Finally though, Dimir gets a utility mage that has relevant abilities that don’t break the game. Surveil 2 is certainly powerful, but it requires a hefty mana requirement.

Add: Hypothesizzle – Cut: Master the Way

How could I not add one of the coolest names to ever grace a Magic card? Hypothesizzle being an instant makes it feel a bit more exciting than Master the Way. While it’s true that Master the Way can generally kill larger creatures, it also can be a pretty bad draw late in a game. I will take consistent damage, an extra card, and instant speed in this case.

Add: Justice Strike – Cut: NA

This is just clean efficient removal at instant speed that the box always benefits from. This is also an interesting effect that has never been printed at such a low mana cost.

Add: Knight of Autumn – Cut: NA

The Swiss Army Knight ™ ™ ™ does a little bit of everything at the perfect power level. It slices through artifacts and enchantments. It dices through low life totals. It is a serviceable 4/3 creature the rest of the time. The same reasoning for adding Goblin Cratermaker above applies here. Flexibility is king in the battle box, and Knight of Autumn has it in spades.

Add: Ledev Champion – Cut: Citadel Castellan

Citadel Castellan has been an average creature just waiting to get cut from the box. With Ledev Champion, we have a creature that will allow token heavy draws to attack from a different angle. Also, it is a token maker with an expensive enough activation to not be immediately oppressive on an empty board.

Add: Integrity//Intervention – Cut: NA

Split cards are tricky for this format. Often they have sides that are complete duds or that just don’t work in battle box. When both sides are good though, you get a card like Integrity//Intervention. The creature pump side is a relevant low cost trick. The back half does a serviceable Lightning Helix impersonation. The flexibility of having both options makes it truly shine.

Add: Status//Statue – Cut: Slice in Twain

Much as I just stated, Status//Statue threads the needle on useful effects. It’s possible that Statue is just so good that it will be what is usually cast, but that’s fine, as it is a good way to cut the far narrower Slice in Twain. Status is not without its merits. Again flexibility is key, and deathtouch is a dangerous keyword combined with certain creatures in the box.

Add: Gatekeeper Gargoyle – Cut: NA

I really enjoy cards that can interact with the basic manabase that battle box presents. The cycle of gatekeepers from Dragon’s Maze are some of my favorite cards because it allows the gates to mean something. This beefy gargoyle rewards a player for sequencing in a difficult fashion. The fact that this will commonly be an 8/8 flyer means it will be on the watch list, but half the fun of this format is the ability to include cards like this and Fusion Elemental.


Wrapping Up

A whopping 16 cards are going in from Guilds of Ravnica, and there easily could have been more. Cards like Chemister’s Insight and Conclave Cavalier are missing out on inclusion by just the slightest nudge of power level. As I begin to draft and play the format, a few more unsung cards might catch my eye. Sets with a focus on multicolored cards always have me excited for new goodies. With another two Ravnica sets right around the corner, I know that my battle box is going to keep expanding.

I will once again post a link to my list, just in case it was skipped in all the excitement of these new additions. Let me know in the comments what cards have caught your eye.

Mike Keknee’s Battle Box List

Thanks for Reading,

-Mike Keknee




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