Lesson #1 for cube designers is to make sure your format has enough creatures, typically at least half the cards in every color but blue. This cube can probably go a little lower since everyone will automatically have access to their commander, essentially giving them a ninth card in their opening hand that's always a creature.
Unfortunately, most of the archetype support so far has been heavily weighted toward noncreature spells, which is another reason why I wanted to set aside a suite of cards devoted to creature-based tribal themes.
However, just to check my assumptions, I looked at the most popular high power commanders to see how many creatures they actually used. Together, these commanders had 42% creatures versus 58% colored noncreature spells.
Those percentages are not that surprising and confirm my guess that I don't need to worry about creatures as much. However, they do still need to be in here more than any other spell type. As it stands now, I still need to increase the proportion of creatures significantly.
August 2, 2020 5:53 p.m.
Having at last input a full 360 cards, I tested this cube out today, building four sealed decks as if I was one of four players:
- Build around the theme that jumped out most readily from the pool: This resulted in a pretty aggressive deck that couldn't quite find an appropriate commander, settling for Queen Marchesa. This player was frustrated.
- Build an aristocrats-style value deck: The sacrifice shenanigans might be a little short in supply, but this player found plenty of ways to spam the board with tokens and get some value off of them. Tayam seemed like a decent enough fit.
- Build a controlling deck with an unusual win condition: This player found exactly what he was looking for as blue supplied some decent interaction and Thassa's Oracle. There are some other stunts, and Xyris will head up this deck.
- Use the most unusual cards and find synergies with an unpopular commander: Agent of Treachery triggered the notion that there could be a deck that steals other players' stuff. The support for this is pretty thin, but there was just enough to make a playable deck for Marchesa, the Black Rose. This deck will definitely want to upgrade over the course of a league...
Overall, these sealed pools were decent, and I was very glad to see most "players" able to shape the pool to their interests. In addition, the manafixing and ramp was plentiful in every pool, so that absolutely will not be a problem. That said, I can see some issues.
- If you don't have any preferences, you will be completely lost. You get 90 cards, nearly all of which are complex rares or mythics. On top of that, there are over 100 commanders to pick from. I can see it be very frustrating to take forever building a deck from your pool only to find no commander really works with what you think your deck should be doing or picking out a commander only to find it isn't really supported by your pool.
- Card draw could be a problem for some colors. With preconstructed decks, you can go out of your way to get card draw from artifacts or the narrow forms of card draw available in your colors. However, card draw is not readily available in every color here, so the Queen Marchesa deck (for example) is probably going to run out of steam. (That said, it is supposed to be more aggressive, and Monarch gives you some extra card draw.)
August 9, 2020 5:10 a.m.
I did a trial run of the decks I just built, and things worked out well. As always, someone got manascrewed, someone else got out to an early lead, making himself a target. There was a lot of ebb and flow to who seemed to be in the lead, with Queen Marchesa getting in some early hits but then being superseded by Tayam's superior board presence. The two of them kind of got into it while Xyris (manascrewed) and Marchesa, the Black Rose (weak) weren't doing much. The latter deck finally got some synergies going and threatened to deck Queen Marchesa, which I definitely was not expecting. Meanwhile, Xyris finally hit the board and almost instantly churned out four 3/3 snakes before drawing removal. In the end, the Tayam deck proved to be too resilient and managed to get back in the game after the other three decks beat up on each other and finished them all off.
All in all, it definitely felt like Commander. There were big plays and massive resource accumulation. Things were a little clunkier, as some decks were running cards that were not perfectly aligned to their strategy, but that's what you get with a limited format. At no point did it seem like anyone was playing total junk. Queen Marchesa had absolutely no problem with card draw, and apart from Xyris's manascrew the manafixing and ramp was spot on. (If anything, it was better than my own decks typically do!) The removal was right down the middle: of course everyone wished they had more answers to opposing threats, but everyone was able to do something about the most important challenges to their game state. In a sign that things were about right, at one point Tayam felt compelled to bring forth Damnation, which Xyris was able to counter, and Tayam still recovered to win. It felt like just enough back-and-forth.
August 9, 2020 7:38 a.m.
Playtesting with Player Profiles
To address the main shortcoming of the last playtest, I added "Player Profiles" to the cube description to help players identify commanders they might like before receiving their sealed pool. Using the first four profiles for another round of sealed decks led to the following results:
- "Combat Shenanigans": This player's first choice is Queen Marchesa, and his pool did not disappoint, providing plenty of options in her three colors. The set's design forced its way through, emphasizing a Voltron build with lots of creatures that want to attack on their own. Mass removal helps to keep the board clear of blockers. The biggest gap was auras and equipment to buff the main attacker, but that's something this player can hope for from pools passed to him. This pool also made it abundantly clear that I should try switching the humans subtheme for angels.
- "Value Engine": As the most popular high power commander for both aristocrats and graveyard themes, Karador is probably the go-to commander for this player. Although the self-milling was not prevalent in this pool, there were a good number of sacrifice outlets and mass removal spells, suggesting more of an aristocrats build. On top of that, there were a couple ways to sacrifice lands plus the Ramunap Excavator, so the deck can get the lands back. Eerie Ultimatum clinched the deal.
- "Stealth Mode": Every commander on the list for this player has blue, so I started there. Fortunately, there was bit of interaction along with Jace's Archivist and Karn's Temporal Sundering, which provide the potential for this player's unusual win condition. Red offered up plenty of removal plus a wheel effect, so it seemed suitable as a second color. I could have just gone with Keranos, but part of the test here is to see if a player's preferences can be found within the pool. In this case, there were some black cards that helped, and the fixing was there, making Nekusar a viable choice. Unfortunately, despite having enough cards to make a control deck work, there was only one wheel effect in this pool, so Nekusar is unlikely to go off the way you want him to.
- "Flexible": This final pool seemed to have the best cards in white and blue, leaning into a control build with limited and unusual win conditions. I picked Merieke Ri Berit as the commander, which required a splash of black.
All in all, every "player" got their first choice, except the fourth player, who picked a commander based on his pool rather than building his pool to a commander. It seems like the cards in this set are flexible enough that you can probably build a viable deck around any commander you pick as long as its got 3+ colors. The manafixing is so prevalent that you'll have no problem at all getting the deck to work.
August 11, 2020 4:43 a.m.
Playtesting Recent Decks
I pitted the decks I put together last night against each other to see how they'd fare. I was actually pleased to see they were clunkier than I'd expected. It means you can't just mash together all the cards in your three favorite colors and have an awesome deck. However, all of the decks worked, and ironically the deck that tried to build itself most thoughtfully had the earliest exit from the game. The remaining decks felt just right for a league format: they all had a general gameplan but had clear gaps, just the sort of thing you'd hope to improve upon with a new batch of 60 cards passed to you after the session. With this experience, it seems like 3-color decks are fine as the go-to here. If you want more flexibility and risk mana issues, then there are a handful of 4- and 5-color generals. If you want to make sure you don't ever have mana issues and maybe want to go deep on a narrower theme, you'd go for a 2-color deck. The monocolor decks--which unfortunately make up a good chunk of the commander pool--are probably the toughest to pull off here.
As the game continued after the first player left, a lot of the clunkiness receded, as players were jockeying for position going into the endgame. Karador initially seemed the clunkiest, since it did not have ways to get creatures into the graveyard, but once it had some board presence, opponents were happy to stock his graveyard for him with mass removal. His cards were incredibly powerful in combination with each other, essentially allowing for endless mana whenever he wanted, and he didn't care if he had to bin a land or two via the Sylvan Safekeeper to protect his key creatures. The deck was extremely resilient and seemed to always be lurking as a major threat no matter what the other players did.
Meanwhile, Nekusar went from nothing to archenemy. I'd been worried about the lack of wheel effects, but damn just one plus Nekusar himself was enough to bring the other decks to the brink, especially Queen Marchesa, who'd been drawing an extra card every turn due to being The Monarch. Opponents let Bloodchief Ascension stick around, which enabled a massive life swing when Nekusar wheeled. Nekusar had just enough answers to protect this card, which proved to be absolutely devastating. Every time the board was wiped--which was happening often--opponents were getting dinged for 2 life. Every time Nekusar countered a spell, that opponent was losing 2 life. In an amazing comeback, Nekusar ended up winning by casting Balefire Dragon on Karador's end step (via Leyline of Anticipation) and then attacking Karador with it on his next turn. Without any fliers or remaining removal, Karador had to take 6 from the dragon and then another 6 from creatures getting destroyed. That was enough to take him out of the game, and since he'd reanimated one of Queen Marchesa's creatures, that player got dinged for 2 as well, ending the game.
All in all, this game, like the last one, felt like what you'd expect from a casual Commander game. I was a little worried the aristocrats/sacrifice player would win twice in a row, so it was nice to see the wheels player pull off the comeback. Queen Marchesa was in it the whole time but runs out of steam against slower decks; I think making the switch from humans to angels for white's tribal theme will provide a decent boost here. Finally, the "stunt" player got the boot early in both games, which seems entirely appropriate.
August 11, 2020 2:37 p.m.
I wanted to test my sense that monocolor decks are tough to put together, which had cropped up as I was leaning into 3-color decks in the last round of playtesting. I realized I'd been mostly ignoring cards related to tribal and other subthemes and swiftly dismissing hybrid cards, all of which help monocolor decks work. For this round, I figured I'd have four new players, all focused on the following approaches:
- Tribal: This player aimed for the tribal theme his pool presents, which meant likely being monocolor, but not necessarily. The result was a Karlov deck that mixed angels with lifegain, which is a pretty decent combination. (It might be worth thinking through how tribes can combine with off-color subthemes to strengthen themselves.)
- Monocolor: This player was fully devoted to picking a color and sticking to it. No exceptions! Fortunately, red presented a critical mass of cards, including some key synergy cards for both Purphoros and Heartless Hidetsugu. The former probably would have been better, but I couldn't resist the latter.
- Artifacts: This player went all-out for the one main archetype that hadn't made an appearance yet. This pool had very few white cards, driving me toward a UR build. Fortunately, red had a number of anthem effects that might work well with a deck spitting out thopter tokens.
- Niche theme: This player latched onto a subtheme like lifegain, likely leading to a mostly monocolor deck, but he didn't mind bringing in a second color. With tons of black cards in this pool, it was hard to avoid lifegain as the niche theme of choice, and white of course was the natural pairing. There's a very minor vampires minitheme within the deck that would have the potential to emerge more strongly through a league format.
All of these decks are a little forced, filling gaps with generally useful cards that don't necessarily have anything to do with their theme. The same could have been said of the last couple iterations, only a little less so.
In the test game, the "niche" deck (Oloro) came on strong and made itself a target, drawing the ire of Saheeli in particular, who wanted to pump out servo tokens but couldn't due to Oloro's Archfield of Depravity. Saheeli wasn't having much problem going off anyway, playing spells for free and having the mana leftover for extra combats on every turn.
Heartless Hidetsugu had been the default target for most of the game because it didn't have any blockers up and was being played by the "player" who'd been most successful in the prior two games. However, without really mounting much of a threat, it soon receded into the background as everyone wailed on Oloro and then started worrying about Saheeli. Then, out of nowhere, this monored deck started doing its thing pummeling everyone with direct damage off Molten Psyche and Spiteful Visions, neither of which are popular cards but both of which did some serious work here. Chandra's Ignition wiped the board of most threats but left Karlov (who was a 10/10) around. Heartless Hidetsugu still hadn't hit the board and didn't have any major threats to speak of, so the other two decks kept beating each other up. When Heartless Hidetsugu came out, Saheeli had been eliminated, and Karlov was at 4 life, very easy to finish off.
Despite playing "niche" decks, this game seemed much more combat oriented than the last two. I don't know if this is going to be typical, but it seemed like the opposite of what you'd want. Ideally, the most obvious, entry-level decks are about getting creatures onto the battlefield and doing some combat, while the decks with fancy strategies are a little more elusive. I'll probably want to test again--after all, there was notably very little blue and absolutely no green among these decks, so everyone was mostly focused on the most combat-oriented wedge in the set. All in all, this was a solid performance, showing there is some diversity in the set after all!
August 11, 2020 9:14 p.m.
This set finally got played for real this evening. The good news is that strong, functional decks were built. Games felt like Commander, with big swings and dramatic plays. Although some decks (like my Olivia Voldaren deck) did not seem all that functional, Noah was able to use the tools he was given to build a killer deck. My confidence that the set can produce quality decks in the right hands has increased.
However, my confidence that the set is balanced has been shaken. My exuberance for supporting the wheels strategy--particularly as it can manifest with Xyris--was abundantly clear, as Noah's deck was helmed by none other than Xyris itself. Between the snake tokens + Gaea's Cradle and Thassa's Oracle + 40-card decks, his build was unstoppable. The only hiccup was the second game, when Jeremy and I successfully ganged up on him. Even then, he probably would have won given one more turn.
I'm okay with someone having a dominant deck in a session, so I'm not sure anything needs to be done about this just yet. Perhaps going to 60-card decks, imminently doable with just three players, will be enough to put another couple turns onto the clock. If that doesn't work, it's always more interesting to put answers in than to take threats out, so I'll want to add some ways to get graveyards back into libraries. It also didn't help that Jeremy and I were playing without blue; a single counterspell would have ruined Noah's plan and ended his game...but it's not fair that blue is the only color that can cut off this strategy.
All in all, I feel like it was a successful first outing for the set as a whole.
December 31, 2020 2:02 a.m.
Right on! More perfectly good Commander games came from this set this evening. Jeremy played a fearsome Marchesa deck that made itself an early target. My Voltron decks (Uril and then Rafiq) both got to do their thing: piling up equipment for huge swings in the first game and then using Archangel of Thune and Ajani, Greathearted to pile up the +1/+1 counters in the second game. Ryan's Alela deck had lots of mini-synergies going on, including some minor angel synergies I was very pleased to see!
It was nice to be playing with strong staples while still seeing some unique strategies--largely driven by the commanders themselves--play out across games. We'll be trying a "league" format and upgrading our decks using another player's sideboard next time. I'm already regretting passing that Archangel of Thune...
March 6, 2021 3:31 a.m.
Last night, we did a second round with our decks from last time, this time with modifications from cards passed to us from another player. I kept my base Voltron strategy but shifted into five colors and used Child of Alara as my commander. This approach worked out well enough, but it put me in the position of being a kingmaker in the first game, as I could easily dispatch one player but would lose to the other.
Meanwhile, Ryan played an upgraded Alela deck that showed its stuff a bit more this time, with some nice synergies working amidst the artifacts, enchantments, flyers, and angels. In the second game, he stumbled into an infinite loop he couldn't escape, technically resulting in a draw. We pretended that I used Dovin's Veto on his combo piece (even though I hadn't), and Jeremy naturally went on to win pretty easily.
I'm feeling pretty good about this format right now. We're playing with excellent but not overpowered cards. The decks feel strong and can work with or without their commander. Themes I installed in the set are showing up effectively, and nothing yet seems to be running away with the game at all. Not bad!
March 13, 2021 6:05 p.m.
Updates - March 2021
After playtesting on my own and playing several sessions with others, I'm doing a first round of revisions to this cube. I explain each swap below, but overall I'm trying to:
- Eliminate 2-card combos, though I might try working in some clunky combos requiring 4+ cards later on...
- Update/Upgrade cards with new additions up to (but not yet including) Commander Legends
- Enforce collection-wide singleton constraint by removing cards that have made their way into EDH decks
- Slightly restrain the wheels theme and keep the appeal of blue in check
I'm surprised that these seemingly limited goals are leading to nearly ten percent of the set changing, but I guess a bunch of small goals add up!
- Tempered Steel --> Godsend: unsupported "artifact creature" buildaround for decent utility equipment in white
- Archangel of Thune --> Angel of Destiny: combo piece for fun new alternative win condition from Zendikar Rising
- Laboratory Maniac --> Folio of Fancies: The wheels deck seemed just a little too easy to pull off in our first playtest. A lot of that might have to do with 40-card decks, which we've since increased to 60 cards. Nonetheless, including both Laboratory Maniac and Thassa's Oracle feels a little redundant, so I think I'll experiment with using one or the other moving forward. Folio of Fancies provides another tool for wheels decks while potentially also creating a self-contained milling strategy...
- Teferi's Ageless Insight --> Blue Sun's Zenith: Trying to keep power level even across colors, I'm downgrading the increasingly popular M21 card for a similar but trickier card draw spell.
- Lullmage Mentor --> Merrow Reejerey: Extremely narrow merfolk card for slightly less narrow merfolk card
Red's swaps are mostly minor upgrades to specific effects. Goblins tribal has yet to emerge, but that might just need the right player to get it going.
- Goblin Chirurgeon --> Legion Loyalist: Weird Voltron protection for a more typical "go wide" goblin support card
- Brash Taunter --> Goblin Offensive / Goblin Goliath: Combo piece for a more straightforward goblins payoff/enabler
- Utvara Hellkite --> Terror of the Peaks: Both of these are fun, splashy dragons, but Terror of the Peaks has become more popular, while Utvara Hellkite seems better in a dedicated dragons deck.
- Dragonmaster Outcast --> Curse of Opulence: A popular card for dragons (which are not really a theme here) for a more generally useful (and interesting) 1-drop
- Gratuitous Violence --> Fiery Emanicpation: Basically the same thing, only better!
Green gets a surprising number of changes. These aren't necessary upgrades; it's mostly diversifying effects to make the cube more interesting.
- Growing Rites of Itlimoc --> Scute Swarm: A Gaea's Cradle (which is in the set already) that makes you work for it versus a potentially fun lands/tokens enabler
- Guardian Project --> Beast Whisperer: Basically the same card except a 2/3 creature instead of an enchantment
- Zendikar Resurgent --> Ancient Greenwarden: Kind of redundant with the cards above for a splashier mythic from Zendikar Rising
- Ramunap Excavator --> Beastmaster Ascension: Redundant effect for "Overrun" effect that's not yet in the set
- Bloom Tender --> Quest for Renewal: Multicolor manafixer for more interesting/unique effect
- Runic Armasaur --> Branching Evolution: Boring defensive card for an intriguing buildaround
All the changes here are to the manarocks and manafixing.
- Solemn Simulacrum --> Nyx Lotus: One of the design constraints on this cube is to exclude anything that might be deemed a cube staple, which Solemn Simulacrum most certainly is. I'm replacing it with a relative recent manarock that'll help encourage more monocolor decks.
- Thran Turbine --> Jeweled Lotus: Thran Turbine's usage was extremely narrow and in fact arose mostly as a combo piece, which I'm now trying to avoid. Although I'm holding off on the full overhaul that Commander Legends will likely entail, Jeweled Lotus is an easy addition here.
- Ashnod's Altar --> Mox Amber: Ashnod's Altar so easily combos with other cards, that it is almost impossible to not stumble into an "oops, I win" situation. Mox Amber provides much more typical ramp, and it's something you'll find only in Commander.
- Everflowing Chalice --> Forsaken Monument: Powered cube staple for interesting colorless buildaround from Zendikar Rising that should upgrade filterlands to be more on par with other lands
Multicolor & Lands
- Enchanted Evening --> Steel of the Godhead: Combo piece for more popular hybrid card in the same colors
- 3-color cards --> Modal Double-Faced Cards: Although they are powerful, the 3-color cards work in very few dacks, whereas the MDFCs are extremely flexible and representative of Zendikar Rising's most memorable mechanical innovation
- Trilands --> Triomes: Themes are situated in wedges, so the fixing should lean in that direction too.
March 20, 2021 3:42 p.m.
We did a round with the cube post-updates, and it worked out well! I was stunned that the essentially auto-built monogreen Omnath Voltran deck I gave Jeremy worked out so well, giving me and Ryan fits for all three games and giving Jeremy two wins. My cobbled-together Atraxa Proliferate deck struggled with mana on one game because I didn't mulligan but managed to pull off its +1/+1 counter nonsense in both other games. It also had some lifegain synergies that appeared in playtesting but not actual games. Meanwhile, Ryan went the route of aristocrats with Teysa, which seems to be his thing, and commented on the emergent synergies he was discovered during play. Although red was completely absent, we still had a nice range from a monocolor to 4-color deck and probably some of the most interesting commander play we've had in a while. The upgrades I made were not really noticeable except that perhaps I noticed fewer clunkers and squeezed one of the new MDFCs into my deck, so I'd say it was a minor improvement, which is about what I'd expected. Right on!
April 10, 2021 3:14 a.m.
I updated the recommended commanders under the Player Profiles. They now include options as recent as Strixhaven, which is a big update, since the old list had not been updated in almost a year (i.e., since Theros Beyond Death). In fact, I switched the list of high-power commanders over to this one, which will hopefully continue to be updated in the future.
A couple days before this update, we did another round with the decks we used last time. I used the pool passed to me to upgrade my Atraxa deck to be much more focused on planeswalkers, and it was pretty successful. Jeremy and Ryan had much more threatening board states early on, and casting just one measly planeswalker did little to change my relative threat level. Then I cast another and then another. Once I had three down, they were all interacting with each other, and Atraxa was able to keep them going. I got the ultimate on two of them, which really made me impossible to deal with. It was neat to feel like my deck genuinely improved from one session to the next, so I can see passing pools in the future. However, playing another session with this same deck seems like a stretch, so having all the cards go all the way around every time probably won't happen much if ever.
April 18, 2021 8:29 p.m.
My recent angels tribal deck required raiding this cube. I originally thought I'd have to swap the angels subtheme for soldiers, but it looks like there are enough angels to go around. The main difference is that my deck wants angels with lifelink and other life synergies, so I'm pulling those from the cube in exchange for other types of angels.
- Elspeth, Sun's Champion --> Cathars' Crusade
- Anointed Procession --> Karmic Guide (angel)
- Resplendent Angel --> Youthful Valkyrie
- Bishop of Wings --> Seraphic Greatsword
- Angel of Destiny --> Angelic Arbiter
- Emeria Shepherd --> True Conviction
- Herald of War --> Finale of Glory
- Sunscorch Regent --> Entreat the Angels
- Luminarch Ascension --> Dawn of Hope
- Dance of the Dead --> Golgari Thug
- Urza's Incubator --> Extraplanar Lens
I'm also swapping out blue's blink subtheme. Very few of the high-power commanders care about this theme, and the cards I've included don't even push the theme that much. In contrast, quite a few high-power commanders have a "theft" theme, and nearly all of them are in blue. As a result, I'm putting some support cards for this them in here instead of the blink theme.
- Sea Gate Oracle --> Steal Enchantment
- Watcher for Tomorrow --> Thieving Skydiver
- Ghostly Flicker --> Commandeer
- Archaeomancer --> Sower of Temptation
- Diluvian Primordial --> Roil Elemental
Other minor changes arose from my zombie/mill deck and tweaks I've been wanting to make.
- Traumatize --> Fleet Swallower
- Knight of the Ebon Legion --> Cordial Vampire
- Dark Confidant --> Keen Duelist
Well, once again some "minor" updates are resulting in turnover of five percent of the cube, so the next iteration might feel a little different.
May 3, 2021 2:35 p.m.
Here's another update that seems small but is still swapping out nearly ten percent of the cube! These shifts address a few things:
- Residual redundancies from recent decks: In keeping with my "universal singleton" rule, I'm replacing any cards that have found a better home in a specific deck.
- Multicolor miscellany: A number of multicolor spells were effected by #1, and I found the "archetype support" this section had been providing was a little inconsistent. As a result, I just went with more general effects here.
- Recent sets: I brought in a few changes from Kaldheim, Strixhaven, and their associated Commander products. We'll see if these stick, but for now they look exciting!
I notably skipped over Commander Legends because I suspect that set will merit its own overhaul. In fact, I'm considering adding 90 cards to the "sideboard," which I'd add in whenever we have an extra player. I'm holding off on that for now to focus on this more minor update.
- Mentor of the Meek --> Archaeomancer's Map
- Paradigm Shift --> Mystic Reflection
- Folio of Fancies --> Prosperity
- Harvester of Souls --> Living Death
- Painful Quandary --> Stinging Study
- Murderous Rider --> Rise of the Dread Marn
- Sudden Spoiling --> Cunning Rhetoric
- Rolling Earthquake --> Crackle with Power
- Impact Resonance --> Tibalt's Trickery
- Treasure Nabber --> Cursed Mirror
- Dwynen's Elite --> Elvish Warmaster
- Quest for Renewal --> In Search of Greatness
- Burnished Hart --> Skyclave Relic
- Commander's Sphere --> Chromatic Lantern
- Dreamstone Hedron --> Belbe's Portal
- Hedron Archive --> Primal Amulet
- Blackblade Reforged --> Illusionist's Bracers
- Rogue's Passage --> War Room
- Temple of the False God --> Ghost Quarter
- Growth Spiral --> Oversimplify
- Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord --> Kaya the Inexorable
- Dance of the Manse --> Spell Queller
- Havengul Lich --> Sire of Stagnation
- Master of Cruelties --> Captive Audience
- Dragonlair Spider --> Atarka's Command
- Ashen Rider --> Inkshield
- Poison-Tip Archer --> Underrealm Lich
- Sunforger --> Outlaws' Merriment
June 16, 2021 10:24 p.m.
I thought it would take another couple sets or diving into Commander Legends for there to be a worthwhile update to the Commander Cube, but continuing to work through the most popular Commander cards has led to enough changes for a full update. Changes fall into the following categories:
- I had included a number of "build-around" artifacts that were not really getting used. At the same time, the tribal themes have been close but never quite crossed the finish line. I am therefore swapping out the build-around artifacts for some universal (colorless) tribal support.
- I'm also swapping out some generally useful utility lands for utility lands that more specifically support the set's archetypes.
- I'll eventually add a "sideboard" that allows a fourth player to play. It will likely include additional themes for each color, like extra turns in blue and +1/+1 counters in green, as well as another cycle of multicolor cards. Some of the cards currently in the cube would be a better fit for this new module, so I'm replacing them with other (usually more popular) cards.
- Some cards have been reprinted and are now accessible for budget decks, so I swapped these out for pricier options we're less likely to see in paper.
- I generalized white's auras subtheme to enchantments in general. There weren't enough auras in the set for that theme to ever come together, but there are plenty of enchantments.
Once again, I'm surprised to find a tenth of this set is getting changed!
While I was at it, I checked the list of high power commanders and made some adjustments to the Player Profiles based on the changes to that list.
- Dispatch --> Sigarda's Aid
- Mirror Entity --> Flawless Maneuver
- Approach of the Second Sun --> Crested Sunmare
- Martial Coup --> Sevinne's Reclamation
- Return to Dust --> Day of Judgment
- Duelist's Heritage --> Puresteel Paladin
- Darksteel Mutation --> Greater Auramancy
- Eidolon of Countless Battles --> Spear of Heliod
- Archon of Sun's Grace --> Replenish
- Heavenly Blademaster --> Sphere of Safety
- Karn's Temporal Sundering --> Spawning Kraken
- Imp's Mischief --> Damn
- Animate Dead --> Dauthi Voidwalker
- Incendiary Command --> Vandalblast
- Beast Whisperer --> Guardian Project
- Kalonian Hydra --> Unbound Flourishing
- Thunderfoot Baloth --> Apex Devastator
- In Search of Greatness --> Bloom Tender
- Mycosynth Lattice --> Pyre of Heroes
- Vedalken Orrery --> Metallic Mimic
- Eldrazi Monument --> Adaptive Automaton
- Mindslaver --> Obelisk of Urd
- Elixir of Immortality --> The Ozolith
- Thousand-Year Elixir --> Mirage Mirror
- Helm of the Gods --> Blade of the Bloodchief
- Spell Queller --> Unsettled Mariner
- Knight of the Reliquary --> Gavony Township
- Dack's Duplicate --> Storm the Vaults
- Outlaws' Merriment --> Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
- Master Biomancer --> Simic Ascendancy
- Murkfiend Liege --> Shield of the Oversoul
- Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx --> Westvale Abbey
- Ghost Quarter --> Geier Reach Sanitarium
- War Room --> Witch's Clinic
July 18, 2021 1:02 p.m.
I made a few more tweaks in preparation for a more significant change coming down the road. In some cases, I'm reverting to cards that used to be in here; in other cases, I'm adding cards that will make a lot more sense once I complete the future changes...
- Spell Swindle --> Tezzeret, the Seeker
- Jace Beleren --> Intruder Alarm
- Liliana of the Dark Realms --> Professor Onyx
- Indomitable Creativity --> Storm-Kiln Artist
- Gaea's Cradle --> Utopia Sprawl
- Beastmaster Ascension --> Heartwood Storyteller
- Elder Gargaroth --> Zendikar Resurgent
- Extraplanar Lens --> Phyrexian Altar
- Mirage Mirror --> Rings of Brighthearth
- Obelisk of Urd --> Chromatic Orrery
July 24, 2021 3:30 a.m.
Although I've been updating the lists of eligible commanders for this cube, I had yet to revisit whether the cube still supported these commanders' strategies. For example, despite including graveyard support since the beginning, it took nearly a year for our first graveyard decks to show up. Meanwhile, other decks like equipment-based voltron decks had appeared numerous times.
Taking a closer look, it became clear why this has been happening. The artifacts theme in URW synergizes with the voltron theme in RWB, strongly pushing a RW Voltron Equipment strategy. Meanwhile, the number of commanders that care about the graveyard has gradually diminished, so, even if you have all the right cards, you're less likely to find a commander that'll work for you.
As a result, I'm making some changes to the archetypes:
- Voltron (RWB --> WBG): A number of the most compelling voltron commanders are in green, but until now I have not had any explicit support for this archetype in green.
- URW Artifacts --> Noncreature Spells: I'm generalizing this theme, assigning each color its own role--White = enchantments, Blue = artifacts, Red = instants and sorceries. This shift opened up room for white to get blink as a new subtheme, which supports several commanders that used to be "fringe competiive" but are now eligible for this cube.
- BGU Graveyard --> +1/+1 Counters: It turns out there are more high-power commanders that care about +1/+1 counters than those that care about the graveyard! They just so happen to be in these colors, so I switched the theme for this wedge. Graveyard synergies are still present for some black-based commanders, moreso than lifegain, so I kept black's graveyard suite around instead of its lifegain subtheme.
- Aristocrats (WBG --> RWB): We've yet to see a genuine "aristocrats" deck that includes green, but red has dabbled in it despite not having a full suite of support.
The following card swaps support the archetype shifts I just outlined:
- Leonin Shikari --> Eldrazi Displacer
- Greater Auramancy --> Flickerform
- Godsend --> Eerie Interlude / Skyclave Apparition
- Leonin Abunas --> Cosmic Intervention
- Open the Vaults --> Karmic Guide
- Increasing Confusion --> Dictate of Kruphix
- Cephalid Coliseum --> Flux Channeler
- Search for Azcanta --> Contentious Plan
- Bloodchief Ascension --> Knight of the Ebon Legion
- Night's Whisper --> Eternal Thirst
- Twilight Prophet --> Phyrexian Scriptures
- Witch of the Moors --> Black Market / Grave Endeavor
- Cavalier of Night --> Hatred
- Bloodthirsty Aerialist --> Flesh Carver / Feast on the Fallen
- Expedite --> Underworld Breach
- Unleash Fury --> Goblin Bombardment
- Molten Psyche --> Imperial Recruiter
- Embercleave --> Mob Rule
- Goblin Welder --> Aria of Flame / Electrostatic Field
- Goblin Engineer --> Increasing Vengeance
- Cursed Mirror --> Bonus Round
- Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep --> Past in Flames
- Balefire Dragon --> Pyromancer's Goggles
- Evolutionary Leap --> Canopy Cover
- Awakening Zone --> Ancestral Mask
- World Shaper --> Bear Umbra
- Mycoloth --> Soul's Majesty
- Primal Growth --> Hardened Scales
- Prismatic Omen --> Gyre Sage
- Splinterfright --> Champion of Lambholt
- Splendid Reclamation --> Path of Discovery
- Golgari Grave-Troll --> Kalonian Hydra
I've also been feeling it's a little too easy to do a 4+ color "good stuff" deck. Meanwhile, we've been missing some quality utility lands, so I'm trimming the manafixing in exchange for the most generally useful utility lands.
- Indatha Triome --> Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
- Raugrin Triome --> War Room
- Zagoth Triome --> Ghost Quarter
- Savai Triome --> Karn's Bastion
- Ketria Triome --> Command Beacon
Finally, the tribal themes I've been pushing have rarely come together. When they do, they rely on the commander moreso than the cards in the cube. As a result, cards that help you cast creatures of a specific tribe are not that helpful.
- Pyre of Heroes --> Extraplanar Lens
- Herald's Horn --> Mutavault
- Belbe's Portal --> Gauntlet of Power
- Door of Destinies --> Maskwood Nexus
Despite seeming like a major overhaul, I'm changing "only" about ten percent of the cube, similar to prior revisions. In addition, many of these swaps are just putting back cards that used to be in here. Nonetheless, these changes are attacking significant themes in a way I have yet to do, so I suspect it will feel more dramatic than usual.
July 24, 2021 10:55 p.m.
Based on playtesting, tribal themes do seem somewhat viable as long as a couple criteria are met:
- There are commanders or cards in the cube that produce tokens of the creature type in question.
- The commander available for the tribe is in two colors, which increases the number of cards available to build the deck, even if the second color has nothing to do with the tribe.
Angels, vampires, and elves all seem to work because they meet these criteria, with angels working the best so far. Goblins are a little weaker, but hopefully these minor changes can improve things slightly:
- Legion Loyalist --> Goblin Rabblemaster
- Imperial Recruiter --> Goblin Sharpshooter
Unfortunately, things seem pretty hopeless for merfolk. Fortunately, most of them happen to be wizards, which is a less demanding tribe. Wizards tend to be about spells, a theme already supported in the cube, but make those decks slightly better if you have a wizard or two in play. To support this shift, I made the following changes.
- Master of the Pearl Trident --> Shapesharer
- Flux Channeler --> Sage of Fables
- Merrow Reejerey --> Lullmage Mentor
- Distant Melody --> Vedalken Archmage
- Fleet Swallower --> Docent of Perfection
July 26, 2021 12:01 a.m.
Multicolor & Manafixing Shifts
I have quite a few more changes. These are in response to some trends I've been noticing as we play.
- I have been feeling like there's an overabundance of mana rocks. In retrospect, this is not surprising, as I included enough for four player's decks. We've been playing with just three players for all but one session, so I'm replacing a quarter of the mana rocks with some more "fun/build-around" cards.
- I have also been feeling like it's too easy to put together 4- or 5-color "good stuff" decks. This is a common problem in cubes, but I didn't worry about it as much here, since I figured you'd want as many colors as possible available to play 3-color decks on "average." It turns out Saskia, Atraxa, etc. are all too easy to assemble, and 5C "Superfriends" is too tempting too often. Part of this is because the best removal is all multicolor, so it only makes sense to gather it all up and play some kind of durdly control deck. In response, I'm replacing this multicolor removal with monocolor options. The new spells are considerably less flexible in terms of what they can do, but they can go in more decks and draw the focus away from 5C nonsense.
- A few iterations ago, I gave up on the "signpost" multicolor cards, opting instead for assorted "miscellaneous" effects. This has only added to the hodgepodge "good stuff" feel of the multicolor section, even though some of the options weren't that "good" at all. With the recent shifts in archetypes, I revisited this portion of the multicolor section and found excellent options for all the themes I'm supporting here.
- Hybrid cards also had "good stuff" quality to them, as they were simply comprised of the best cards I could find. While they sometimes showed up, they have generally not seemed useful or strong enough, especially when you can just play whatever multicolor cards you want. I overhauled the hybrid options to make sure they are playing into the themes of this set.
- Finally, I exchanged the bond lands for another cycle of hybrid cards. This swap will make multicolor good stuff decks a little harder to pull off while providing more deckbuilding tools for monocolor and two-color decks. In order to do this, I lifted my budget restriction and put quite a few cheap cards in.
Here are the changes:
- Mox Amber --> Angel of Invention
- Coldsteel Heart --> Fatestitcher
- Extraplanar Lens --> Species Specialist
- Primal Amulet --> Leyline Tyrant
- Caged Sun --> Golgari Grave-Troll
- Unsettled Mariner --> Oath of Teferi
- Sire of Stagnation --> Mnemonic Betrayal
- Captive Audience --> Kolaghan's Command
- Atarka's Command --> Fires of Yavimaya
- Gavony Township --> Knight of the Reliquary
- Storm the Vault --> Fevered Visions
- Underrealm Lich --> Culling Ritual
- Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion --> Sunforger
- Dovin's Veto --> Grasp of Fate
- Lim-Dul's Vault --> Sublime Epiphany
- Bedevil --> Deadly Rollick
- Decimate --> Incendiary Command
- Mirari's Wake --> Chain of Acid
- Anguished Unmaking --> Darksteel Mutation
- Counterflux --> Devastation Tide
- Journey to Eternity --> Finale of Eternity
- Boros Charm --> Red Elemental Blast
- Oversimplify --> Force of Vigor
- Geier Reach Sanitarium --> Arcane Lighthouse
- Serra the Benevolent --> Starnheim Unleashed
- Steel of the Godhead --> Mistmeadow Witch
- Privileged Position --> Mercy Killing
- Divinity of Pride --> Dramatic Finale
- Fiend Artisan --> Ravenous Squirrel
- Balefire Liege --> Master Warcraft
- Sea of Clouds --> Enchanted Evening
- Morphic Pool --> Memory Plunder
- Luxury Suite --> Torrent of Souls
- Spire Garden --> Manamorphose
- Bountiful Promenade --> Overbeing of Myth
- Vault of Champions --> Debtors' Knell
- Training Center --> Teach by Example
- Undergrowth Stadium --> Worm Harvest
- Spectator Seating --> Waves of Aggression
- Rejuvenating Springs --> Manifestation Sage
Whew! That's yet another alteration of about ten percent of the cube. These changes are more dramatic than prior ones, except the archetype shifts I did recently. Altogether, about a fifth of the cube has changed, so it will be interesting to see how these changes manifest themselves in actual play!
July 27, 2021 3 a.m.
I expect this batch of changes will be the last for a while. They address a couple things:
- Upgrades from Commander Legends
- Removing combo pieces that will never meet their other half in this set
- Adding in one combo per color
Those last two warrant a bit more explanation. I've promised my players that there are no combos in this set, and I've made good on that so far. I've been planning creating an add-on that activates various combos, so we can play that way if we want to, but that requires taking some cards out. My approach to this is to have a 30- or 40-card module that can be swapped for a "combo module," and I have a sense of what that module will be. However, it can't include cards that combo with the combo module, so that's what a lot of these swaps entail.
In addition to that, I'm actually adding in one combo per color so we can just see how this goes in a small way. I don't plan on using them myself, but I think it could be fun for other players to discover them if they want to.
The changes are as follows:
- Seraphic Greatsword --> Bishop of Wings
- Training Grounds --> Ancestral Vision
- Intruder Alarm --> Nadir Kraken
- Fatestitcher --> Master of Waves
- Keen Duelist --> Nether Traitor
- Red Elemental Blast --> Jeska's Will
- Scourge of the Throne --> Port Razer
- Tempt with Vengeance --> Treasure Nabber
- Crackle with Power --> Malignus
- Utopia Sprawl --> Sylvan Awakening
- Nature's Lore --> Earthcraft
- Champion of Lambholt --> Squirrel Nest
- Elvish Archdruid --> Imperious Perfect
- Noxious Revival --> Krosan Grip
- Rings of Brighthearth --> Mirage Mirror
- Aetherflux Reservoir --> Lithoform Engine
July 29, 2021 10:10 p.m.
These minor tweaks reduce some repetitiveness in the cube.
- Winds of Abandon --> Oblivion Ring
- Blind Obedience --> Knight of the White Orchid
- Sevinne's Reclamation --> Martial Coup
- Entreat the Angels --> Approach of the Second Sun
- Anointed Procession --> Akroma's Will
- Delay --> Remand
- Devastation Tide --> Flood of Tears
- Dismember --> Force of Despair
- Damn --> Go for the Throat
- Tempt with Discovery --> Parallel Lives
August 2, 2021 1:06 a.m.
We've continued playing this over the past few months, gradually bringing July's slew of changes into the card pools. New themes have successfully manifested themselves, including +1/+1 counters (Skullbriar) and light tribal (goblins, elves). We even had our tightest series of games with the most recent pools, with all three coming down to the wire: each player won one, the losers were both in it till the last one or two turns, and the winner was always about to lose as well.
We've got another pool to go before all the changes from July are fully manifested, and then there will be an opportunity to update the cube with all the new sets that have come out since then.
November 14, 2021 2:14 p.m.
Commander Updates Since July 2021
I added new commanders to the roster of options under the Player Profiles. They include:
- Arcum Dagsson
- Lier, Disciple of the Drowned
- Xanathar, Guild Kingpin
- Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient
- Breena, the Demagogue
- Alibou, Ancient Witness
Several new commanders work with tokens:
As a theme, tokens have felt well supported in the cube so far, even though I did not do so intentionally. As a result, I don't anticipate making changes, but it could be that I work to support this theme more fully or concentrate it in BGU, in case the new +1/+1 counters theme does not work out.
Some commanders moved out of the "high power" tier. Most dropped to "mid power," but a couple are now deemed "fringe competitive."
- Iymrith, Desert Doom
- Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
- Ertai, Wizard Adept
- Razaketh, the Foulblooded
- Daretti, Scrap Savant
- Arjun, the Shifting Flame
- Olivia Voldaren
- Tanazir Quandrix
- Tishana, Voice of Thunder
Unfortunately, most of the partner commanders I'd included were moved, so you're stuck with one of the handful of 4- or 5-color commanders if you're looking to maximize the flexibility of your deck's color identity.
November 20, 2021 2:18 a.m.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
At long last, we're at the point where this cube is just getting a regular old update based on a relatively new set. A couple of these are leftover from sets earlier in 2021, but for the most part we're just bringing in fun new cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.
- Cosmic Intervention --> Teleportation Circle
- Bishop of Wings --> The Book of Exalted Deeds
- Serra Ascendant --> Cleric Class
- Flesh Carver --> Vorpal Sword
- Stitcher's Supplier --> Plumb the Forbidden
- Bone Miser --> Revel in Riches
- Incendiary Command --> Crackle with Power
- Treasure Nabber --> Xorn
- Pir's Whim --> Force of Vigor
- Constant Mists --> Druid Class
- Earthcraft --> Werewolf Pack Leader
- Squirrel Nest --> Lair of the Hydra
- Arcane Lighthouse --> Treasure Vault
- Sunforger --> Fighter Class
- Huatli, Warrior Poet --> Nahiri, the Harbinger
December 4, 2021 2:56 p.m.
I'm somehow surprised by the number of changes Midnight Hunt is bringing, but it's actually less than Forgotten Realms--around three percent of the cube. That'll be enough to notice, but it's not a major shift.
- Day of Judgment --> Vanquish the Horde
- Angelic Arbiter --> Serra's Emissary
- Ancestral Vision --> Malevolent Hermit
- Nadir Kraken --> Poppet Stitcher
- Go for the Throat --> Infernal Grasp
- Damnation --> The Meathook Massacre
- Priest of Forgotten Gods --> Morbid Opportunist
- Scute Swarm --> Augur of Autumn
- Nissa, Vital Force --> Wrenn and Seven
- Apex Devastator --> Tovolar's Huntmaster
- Ulvenwald Hydra --> Elder Gargaroth
- Dovin Baan --> Narset Transcendent
December 23, 2021 2:54 p.m.
Despite all the busted rares, Crimson Vow is bringing only a handful of changes to the cube...though there are a lot more changes on the horizon after this!
- Teferi's Protection --> Welcoming Vampire (probably temporary)
- Cryptic Command --> Overcharged Amalgam
- Dig Through Time --> Hullbreaker Horror
- Kalonian Hydra --> Avabruck Caretaker
- Lair of the Hydra --> Cemetery Prowler
January 15, 2022 3:57 a.m.
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