Smash Up Battlebox Primer

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squire1

13 December 2017

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Smash Up Battlebox Primer

by NickyBolas

Hey TappedOut.net! A few months ago, a redditor by the name of /u/improbitas posted about a Commander Smash Up Box that he/she created. Unfortunately, they didn’t post their deck lists.

The concept of building a balanced, out-of-the-box multiplayer Smash Up EDH experience immediately seduced me and I have worked on my own Smash Up Battlebox ever since. After months of testing with my EDH group, balancing decks, tweaking lists, and replacing proxies, I've decided to share my experiences in which was undoubtedly the most challenging deck design experience in my many years of EDH.

We, here at The Trinisphere, will be playing some matches from our Smash Up Battlebox on our biweekly stream (www.twitch.tv/thetrinisphere) Thursday (12/14 @ 8pm EST). If this kind of thing interests you, be sure to swing by and say hello!

What is Smash Up?

Smash Up is a popular card/board game developed by Alderac Entertainment Group in which each player "smashes up" two unique faction decks to form a wacky hybrid deck at the beginning of each game. Whether you’re Pirate-Ninjas, Robot-Plants, or Steampunk-Faeries, Smash Up offers a lot in the way of replayability and variety as different combinations have unique strengths and weaknesses.

Smash Up comes life in the Magic: The Gathering multiverse through the Commander 2016 Partner Commanders. Players pick two 50 card Partner Commander half-decks (49-cards and their Partner Commander) and then shuffle them up. You're now ready to play a crazy and unique game of EDH and you didn't even bring your cards!

Who would want to play a Smash Up Battlebox?

Smash Up Battlebox is an out-of-the-box EDH multiplayer experience that, like its non-Magic predecessor, requires nothing from its players except a willingness to experiment with strange deck combinations. Since all 15 Partner Commander half-decks are provided in the box, players can go from sitting down to spell-slinging in an epic EDH show-down in a manner of a few shuffles.

Smash Up Battlebox provides a balanced EDH experience which my playgroup finds as a welcome change-of-pace after a few games of competitive Commander. Each of the 15 Partner Commander half-decks are balanced in power level to force tighter play and going deeper to out-fox your opponents.

How expensive would it be to make my own Smash Up Battlebox?

Smash Up is a challenge to build on your own, or even as a playgroup. However, limiting the budget not only alleviates the monetary pressure, but it also provides as means to balance the power level of the decks. My playgroup recently had a successful league of budget $50 EDH, and I thought that a good starting point for the Smash Up Battlebox, with plans to improve each deck incrementally after we were happy with the balance.

Since each deck is half of a traditional EDH deck, the budget was set at $25 per Partner Deck. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying to build a deck on a budget, $25 may seem like an insurmountable obstacle. But I urge you to give it a shot, you’ll be surprised with how much of your deck’s budget goes into lands and EDH “staples”.

Beyond the $275 in cards - you’ll need 750 sleeves. I double-sleeved my cube which can be another significant cost.

If I wanted to design my own Smash Up Battlebox, what challenges could I expect?

Designing and balancing the Smash Up Battlebox is the single most difficult and rewarding challenge I've undertaken. Even after nearly a decade of building EDH decks, I've learned a lot about design when charged with picking and balancing 735 unique cards (that's right, no two Partner decks have duplicates) to fill out the Battlebox. And when you come across a micro-synergy like slotting Darkwater Catacombs in Silas Renn to increase the possibility of a T2 Baleful Strix, even when in a 4-color budget deck, you feel like you've made a huge discovery.

Challenge 1 - No More 3C and No More Triple Color

People frequently will ask you "why doesn't this deck have such-and-such" card? Well the Battlebox probably DOES have that card, it’s just in another deck. Sometimes the answer is gentle reminder that there are no 3c, 4c, or 5c cards in Battlebox. Early in the design process people suggested some solutions like having an "allowance" draft where players could pick from a pool of 3c cards after getting their pairing, but as soon as we started playing the base game they quickly forgot about this issue. It’s fun enough as-is.

The first handful of decks I started testing seemed great in a 50-card vacuum. Tymna had a Divinity of Pride slotted in and it was an absolute beating. However, after a few games of getting a 3c or 4c Partner Deck pairing, Divinity of Pride quickly became a groan-worthy dead draw. Similarly, cards with triple-color casting costs were equally loathed by the players of the Battlebox. Soon, all mana-intensive cards were cut. With budget fixing, the risk was too great.

Challenge 2 - Everyone Needs More Fixing!

As we started testing the first handful of completed Partner Decks, it quickly became apparent that 4c pairings were in deep trouble without a significant amount of fixing. We switch between hand-picking or randomly-drawing our Partner Decks, so this issue needed to be addressed to mitigate an unfortunate 4c short-straw. Each deck got a healthy influx of “Mana of Any Color” rocks, as well as most “Basic Landcycling” cards, since they provide ways of reaching outside your color identity.

Challenge 3 - Synergies Run at Half-Strength

As it turns out, diluting a combo-centric or synergy-heavy deck with 49 unrelated cards can cause even the strongest mechanics to fall flat on their face. This is especially true for the Artifact-centric Akiri, Line-Slinger and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept Partner Decks.

As I sat on the precipice of completing the Battlebox, only Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist stood in my way. And for several months he stood resolute. “Goad” Politics and Death-Touching Tim decks didn’t feel strong enough and were scrapped. It was when I finally accepted the fact that some of these commanders are too underwhelming to be the build-arounds that I was able to complete the deck.

After acquiescing, I decided to eschew building around the commander and just target a strong basic mechanic that would benefit any deck it was paired with. I formed one of my favorite decks of the entire Battlebox from what I thought would be my least-liked Partner Deck of them all.

Challenge 4 - Who Gets What Staple?

Pretty much every green deck should run Kodama's Reach, Cultivate, and Skyshroud Claim. Every blue deck should run Rhystic Study, Counterspell, and Cyclonic Rift. But when you’re faced with stocking up 5 blue decks simultaneously who gets the staple? Figuring out which card is at its optimum performance in which Partner Deck is something I tweak each day. Treasure Cruise has been in pretty much every blue deck at one point.

After thinly spreading your EDH go-to’s across a multitude of decks, you’ll find yourself calling upon lesser known analogies like Beneath the Sands and Map the Wastes to fill out the roles.

Challenge 5 - You Don't Know Your Deck

Tutoring - it’s a pretty controversial topic in EDH. You may use tutors to find that combo piece that ends the game, or to find the answer to the board-state at hand, both of which are fine in my opinion. However, I’m not a fan of tutoring for the sake of tutoring. Not knowing what you’re going to get, and making everyone wait while you take a tour through your own deck, can suck the wind out of smoothly rolling EDH game. When it comes to Battlebox, your average player doesn’t know the contents of their own deck. This is designed to be played blind and I could not find myself asking players to look for specific cards in a deck they aren’t familiar with. For the most part, tutoring anything but basic lands have been omitted from Battlebox.

Will My Playgroup Like Smash Up Battlebox?

Thats a question only you can answer. Get a feel for your groups excitement towards the concept. Does your playgroup enjoy budget deck-building? Do they appreciate lesser-known stand-ins to their EDH staples? Do they prefer grindier slug-fest style games to the flashier combo-off-and-win affairs?

If you have generated some interest in Smash Up, you can invest your playgroup in the Battlebox by having them design their own decks. Doing so will form a strong bond with the Battlebox as players love to see their decks perform. You’ll have to do all the fine tuning getting their lists under budget, and ensuring their aren’t duplicate cards across multiple lists, but having your friends build lists not only gets them excited to play, but also alleviates some of the work. 15 balanced lists is a tough task.

Conclusion

Smash Up Battlebox has been an enormous success with my playgroup and I plan on continuing to work on it to improve the lists. Soon I will increase the deck budgets and start growing them in strength while carefully monitoring the balance of power. The process if far from over, so if you have any ideas for lists, optimizations, are budget replacements, be sure to leave a comment!

You can watch us over at The Trinisphere (www.twitch.tv/thetrinisphere) play some games of Smash Up on Thursday (12/14 @ 8pm EST).

Decklists

Akiri, Line-Slinger - List - Focused around a fast Voltron start, you can expect this deck to come out the if the gates and rapidly apply pressure.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder - List - Utilizing Bruse Tarl’s combat buff, this deck hits hard with aggressive mid-ranged creatures.

Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper - List - With Ikra’s life gain ability, this deck leverages your life total as an asset while providing resilient creatures and one-side board wipes.

Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker - List - Draw-go control helps protect the commander as it grows to an enormous size.

Kraum, Ludevic's Opus - List - Spell-slinging is the name of the game in this Izzet control deck with a lot of interaction and card draw.

Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix - List - Drawing cards is the goal as this deck uses enchantments to establish consistent card advantage, draw triggers, and hand size as weapons.

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist - List - Looting and big spells are the main tools in this Izzet control deck that triggers off if draws and discards.

Ravos, Soultender - List - Orzhov reanimator seeks to recast powerful creatures from their graveyard for a second wind.

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan - List - +1/+1 counter-centric Reyhan shifts around counters to form efficient creatures that are tough to get rid of.

Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa - List - Two-Power-Tribal Sidar used some of the best weenies to remain unblockable and other tricks to pump out damage.

Silas Renn, Seeker Adept - List - Treasures, Clues, and Thopters fill out this “Number-of-artifacts-matter” deck.

Tana, the Bloodsower - List - Tana swarms the opponent with tokens and trampling damage to grow your army.

Thrasios, Triton Hero - List - Rigging your top-deck and triggering landfall are the main tools if Thrasios.

Tymna the Weaver - List - Small evasive creatures ensure your generating card advantage with Tymna’s card draw ability.

Vial Smasher the Fierce - List - X spells pump out huge damage with this Vial Smasher list.

landofMordor says... #1

I love this concept, just like I love Smash Up and EDH each by themselves. The design looks super challenging and fun for such a project. Almost like building a cube backwards, starting from the intended ideal deck and then working out all the cross-synergies.

It occurs to me you could almost do Smash Up 60-card decks for tribes, but Llorwyn already did that, and it was lame (; they just didn't do it with Ghost Bear Cavalry tribes.

December 13, 2017 10:31 p.m.

NickyBolas says... #2

landofMordor - Just like you said, you end up building your 15 lists fairly early on. It is only when you start combining lists that issue really start to show. No one wants to smash up two decks only to find out that half of their deck doesn't synergize at all with the other half, or worse - nombo's. I've spent probably 25% of the time building the initial lists and 75% of the time revamping and optimizing lists to play better with each other.

There has been many a last night epiphany where I discover a tiny optimization that makes total sense. For example, I need to put move more cycling lands into Thrasios because they allow you to manipulate your top-deck in a deck that is all about top-deck manipulation.

December 14, 2017 8:29 a.m.

Catonian says... #3

I love Smash Up! This seems like a really cool idea and neat variation on a EDH cube. I'll have to see who in my play group would be interested, but I really want to try this.

December 14, 2017 7:09 p.m.

TheRedGoat says... #4

Just upvoted each of the deck lists since I can't upvote this article, but also just so you know Sidar Kondo's lists seems to be doing the best so far.

December 15, 2017 12:34 p.m.

NickyBolas says... #5

TheRedGoat - Sidar Kondo is one of my favorite, I didn't have to modify it much after the first iteration because the rest of the Battlebox already has a decent number of 2 power utility creatures and commanders. It pairs very well with Tana, for obvious reasons; Tymna, which features small evasive creatures with on-damage value; and Ikra Shidiqi, who has some lopsided creatures and adds lifelink value.

December 15, 2017 2:25 p.m.

Okay so this seems like a whole heck of a lot of fun, I just have one question.

If we're essentially building a new way to play the game, why bother restricting ourselves to the commanders with Partner? Couldn't you just... allow for two commanders in this format and build each 50 card deck with any old commander you want? It just seems like an arbitrary way to restrict yourself so that your end-result decks still "fit" EDH, but if they're only playing amongst one another, why does that matter? Just a thought.

December 16, 2017 12:18 a.m.

NickyBolas says... #7

Tyrant-Thanatos - Good point, you really don't need to use partners here as it is effectively a precon EDH format. However, it's worth noting that these decks, as they are, abide by all rules of EDH and can be played against regular EDH decks without there being rules issues. I wouldn't recommend it, as you're playing A $50 deck that is potentially 4c...

But more importantly I am most worried about the balance of power levels. I am, at the basic level, trusting the WotC did their best to balance the partner commanders (we know they didn't succeed since vial smasher is popular and banned).

I would be worried about The balance between non-partner commanders, and the failure to properly balance them being the main source of The Battlebox's downfall.

December 17, 2017 5:39 p.m.

Oh I absolutely agree, balance is key when you're building a sort of "limited" precon experience. It'd take some serious consideration to make sure everything comes out reasonably balanced. And, a you pointed out, the Partner commanders aren't exactly super well balanced. It sort of reminds me of Cube in the sense that it's important to get a feel for the balance of each card within your pseudo-sealed experience.

December 17, 2017 6:03 p.m.

mvas says... #9

If both budget and mana fixing are a concern, maybe you could make an exception regarding no duplicates and add some of the cheap color fixing to every deck. I'm thinking Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse. After all, what fun can you have if you can't realiably cast your spells? Just my two cents. Congratulations on what appears to be a great new way of playing MtG, I'm going to give it a try myself.

December 18, 2017 12:18 p.m.

mvas says... #10

Just to clarify: you could make every deck 49 cards, cutting one land of each and complete every deck with one copy of Evolving Wilds and Expanse. That way every deck gets somo more fixing and you avoid duplication :)

December 18, 2017 12:51 p.m.

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