Tweaking Dimensions

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to Cube draft, and as unpleasant as that already might sound, it’s somewhat more distressing when trying to test out a Cube variant to write about. Luckily, I managed to break the unfortunate streak with back-to-back Drafts on Saturday night. As you may recall, we left off with these eight player abilities:

There was only one problem: Nine people showed up to draft. I quickly dug for something else to use and decided on Drafted despite the already-noted issue that it stops people from making good first picks.

Humble Beginnings

We started off with a Pauper Cube Draft, and right from the start, the unfortunate ninth ability proved annoying. Luckily, it stopped affecting things quickly, and we were able to move on. Cross the Streams and Shoplift both proved immediately powerful, and more importantly, they made their users feel powerful. Whoever ended up with Reboot never opted to use it, and then we came to the Pass Out stage.

Some combination of the low-quality printer I’d used, the overly condensed text, and the general wordiness lead the drafter who received Pass Out to miss that it said to pick the cards face-up, and he immediately treated them as a booster unto themselves. What a great idea! Despite this innovation, however, the Ability proved pretty inconsequential next to some of the other effects.

As we moved on to deck building, Double Up became a Rolling Thunder, Barter turned Selesnya Sanctuary and Simic Growth Chamber into a host of creatures, Terraform added color fixing and a Quicksand, and Roll the Dice overwrote ten less-than-exciting picks. We played out some matches, and the special powers didn’t seem to have skewed things too far; the stronger players were still winning.

The Third Power

At this point, two of our number had to leave, and we moved on to our second Draft of the night, this time with a heavily tweaked version of the Magic Online Cube. As we seated ourselves, I asked if anybody had strong feelings one way or another about using the player abilities again, and I saw shrugs all around. At the time, I didn’t think much of the reaction, and I just shuffled up some abilities to deal out, but looking back on it, this is actually a pretty big problem.

If you read Mark Rosewater’s column or Tumblr feed at all regularly, you’ve heard him respond to people’s complaints about cards they dislike with, “Somebody else loves it.” And he’s right. Magic is not, and should never, be a game in which every element contents every player; nobody plays a game like that. People need to be invested in a game to come back, and to do that, they need to love something about it. My whole approach was flawed in trying to avoid the bad feelings that can come up in Cube; instead, I ought to have been looking to add more good feelings. Let’s see what’s pulling its weight in that regard and replace the rest.

Reparameterizing the Surface

Terraform was intended to add a little bit of color fixing aid to a greedy deck or add a little bit of extra power to a consistent deck, but no matter how good it may be, it neither feels exciting nor enables any new gameplay. One option is to simply ratchet it up to the point that it allows its user not to worry about color fixing:

Supposedly, this version still fulfills the spell-lands effect for a deck with fewer colors, but realistically, it would be hard not to play five colors with this sort of fixing, so maybe going back to a version that doesn’t vary as much based on the size of the Draft would be better.

Whether or not this gameplay will remain novel depends mostly on how consistent your Draft group is. Getting to play five colors without much effort is exciting because you’re violating a central tenant of the game, but the allure wears off once it becomes commonplace. Then again, this variant is aimed primarily at shifting playgroups; if you have a consistent set of players, I would highly recommend using the scars from Gregory Marques’s Cube: Legacy project.

Barter almost worked well except for the awkward timing of the effect. It’s hard to make a lot of trades while the people you’re trying to trade with are busy using the bathroom, grabbing food, and building their decks, and as such, this power didn’t have as big of an impact as I would have liked. I’ve yet to come up with a good fix, so for the time being, I’m taking this slot in a different direction:

I’d considered having the player select a card before drafting, but that would be really hard on anyone unfamiliar with the Cube being used. This version should allow for something awesome to happen without just letting somebody build around Cranial Plating every single session.

Reboot is the worst offender in the avoiding-bad-feelings camp, and as such, the card could do with a reboot itself.

Alpha Myr may not look like the most exciting card to have a bunch of, but this ability actually gives you a lot of extra angles when drafting an aggressive deck. I was messing around with a version that allowed you to fill your curve with mediocre creatures wherever it was lacking, but I couldn’t find a simple version, and the 2-drop slot seemed to be the most essential anyway.

Pass Out took some time to resolve, but I think the core idea is enough fun to warrant that time commitment if it will be relevant to the Draft. With the idea of drafting the cards like an actual booster, things become a lot easier.

Most Cubes are full of good cards, so I hope these cards will actually make the decks of other drafters, but only testing will let us know for sure.

I’m pretty happy with where Cross the Streams ended up, and I’ve been trying to balance the other abilities against it. My only complaint is that the present wording is a little bit hard to parse (one of the drafters missed that the card you put back has to be from the current pack). Luckily, the extra room on the new layout makes clarification easy:

Shoplift likewise seemed to have hit the nail on the head, but this time without the confusing templating.

Roll the Dice didn’t do a whole lot to affect the Draft because even if you received a card that enabled a shift in strategy, you’d just gotten rid of the other cards you needed to make that shift. For that reason, I’m returning to the version that gives you cards before you start drafting so that players can plan around the effect.

I’m still unsure about the numbers here, but the previous version felt a bit anemic, so I made this one stronger. Five cards here would be approximately on par to ten after the fact because you get to define your colors based on them, so I hope moving to seven will put this effect in league with the others.

And finally, we come to Double Up. This card had some swing to it, but the new X Marks the Spot does the same job better, so this slot needs a new direction. Taking (yet another) lesson from Cube: Legacy, I’ve decided to give this a try:

Compost works based on the same premise as Pass Out: Almost all of the cards will be good, and then it goes on to make Pass Out stronger because the drafters will have fewer late picks to throw back. I’m not sure that this card will yield the excitement I’m looking for, but Gregory’s a smart guy, so not testing an ability that he’s seen fit to use for Cube: Legacy is not only foolish, but a disservice to the people drafting with my setup.

Final Draft

Here ends another iteration of the player ability design. Game design is very much an iterative process, but I’m not sure how relevant that process is to you. Why not help me out on that front?

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Anyway, here’s the final set of eight for this week. Let me know what you think in the comments!