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Building a Common/Uncommon Innistrad Cube/Battle Box

One element of playing Magic that I’ve found particularly interesting over the past couple of years is finding new ways to play with my favorite old cards alongside interesting new cards in cardboard form. I enjoy building and tuning various Battle Boxes, like today’s Innistrad Cube/Battle Box, and sharing that game play experience with my friends and family. 

I’ve also noticed that Constructed formats have very much become “pay to play” experiences. I already own thousands of Magic cards I’ve collected over the years; more than enough cards to play with for a lifetime. With that said, I’m not interested in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on new “Constructed mythic rares” like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Urza, Lord High Artificer or Urza’s Saga. It seems like every single new set that is released asks (requires?) that I spend several hundred dollars to acquire a handful of extremely powerful cards that define constructed formats only to have those cards either banned or usurped a few months later. 

That play experience no longer appeals to me. If I get the itch to play a Constructed Grand Prix when they return, I’ll borrow cards from a sponsor, but as far as the cards I want to collect and own personally I prefer cards with a lot of replayability in Battle Boxes and Cubes. Essentially, I’ve played enough Magic over the years that I know and understand what I actually enjoy and I look to create more of those opportunities in the real world.

Limited gameplay, especially Draft, tends to be my favorite form of Magic gameplay. I enjoy the nuance of combat: attacking, blocking, and combat tricks. Battle Boxes and Cubes are a fantastic way to customize a play experience because they give the stack designer a lot of control over how games will tend to play out. If you use more powerful cards, games will feel much more like constructed matches; less powerful cards will feel more like Limited.

Those who follow my Battle Box/Danger Room content know that I typically aim for a “power level sweet spot” that seeks to simulate “two extremely good draft decks” facing off; essentially, I want every game to feel like two excellent draft decks facing off in the 2-0 finals of a draft pod. 

I seek to do this by gravitating toward and selecting excellent commons and uncommons for my stacks, rather than excellent rares and mythics. Good Limited decks tend to be composed mostly of excellent commons and uncommons with a few rares sprinkled in. 

One thing I’ve often noticed is that overpowered rares and mythics can detract from the fun of a good Limited format. 

 

Olivia VoldarenEthereal Absolution

These are two examples that immediately come to mind. Ravnica Allegiance and the original Innistrad are two of my all time favorite Limited formats, but these specific “oops, I win cards” were really annoying to play against (since they tend to just win the game all by themselves). In a Cube, we can replicate the types of play patterns we love from our favorite draft formats while also cutting out the cards that are either much too weak or much too strong. 

Today’s article will showcase a new combination Cube and Battle Box I’ve been working on that mashes up some of my favorite Magic flavor and Limited formats: Innistrad Combined. I’ve essentially built a Cube (that can also be played as a Battle Box) that is composed entirely of commons and uncommons from all of the Magic expansions set on the plane of Innistrad. My entire eight-player Cube (which can also be played as a Battle Box) can be assembled for less than the cost of playset of Ragavan. It’s a lot of fun to play and great card economy.  

I’ll also be walking the reader through the basic process for how I built and tuned the stack. These processes work and anybody can apply them to designing or building any type or theme of Cube their mind’s desires. 

 

Mind's Desire

Let’s get to it!

 

 

Header - Basic Math of a Cube

When building a Cube or format, the game designer can do whatever they please and their imagination is the limit. For today’s Cube building exercise, I’ve decided to keep things fairly simply by setting some straightforward guidelines:

  • All cards must be commons or uncommons from an Innistrad plane sets. 
  • The Cube must support eight drafters. 

I like the Limited gameplay of most of the Innistrad plane sets and so I decided to model my Cube off of a traditional eight-player draft: three packs of 14 cards.

8 Players (x) 3 packs (x) 14 cards per pack = 336 total cards. 

 

Header - Achieving Balance

Great balance is the make or break element of a quality Cube. With a little bit of discipline, it’s easy to do well. The key is to try and strike an equilibrium between each of the five colors and guild combination archetypes within the Cube. All of which is a fancy way of saying: try not to make some colors (or combination of colors) much better than others. 

In my opinion, the biggest rookie mistake that a majority of Cube builders (even experienced builders) often tend to make is that they gravitate toward trying to build the same style of cube: some version of either a powered or unpowered Vintage Cube where they jam all the best cards they can think of (with an equal number of cards of each color) into the stack. I’ve played hundreds of different Cubes over the years and only a handful where blue wasn’t significantly better, and supported more drafters (often three or more!) than any other color. It’s because across the entirety of the history of blue in Magic has significantly more and better cards than any other color.

Since I’ve narrowed the content to “Innistrad plane sets” as opposed to “anything goes,” blue will have less of an advantage than it tends to have in the abstract. With that said, it’s important to try and keep the individual colors (and combination of colors that will create our archetypes) in relative balance.

The most basic way to start with a good balance is through equivalent distribution. 336 divided by five colors = 67 cards of each color. 

We also probably want some multicolor spells, lands and artifacts in the Cube. Those will also need to be evenly distributed and subtracted against the total number of cards in the cube. The context of “Innistrad plane sets” dictates access to common and uncommon lands, multicolor and artifact spells. Innistrad sets don’t tend to be exceptionally rich in artifacts, lands or multicolor spells at common and uncommon (which limits how many I could find). With that said, I went with four of each two-color guild multicolor spells (40 total – approximately 12 percent of the stack, or 1/10 cards) and 28 colorless cards (approximately eight percent of the stack, again 1/10 cards). 

40 multicolor + 28 colorless cards = 68 total cards. 

So, we’ll need to subtract these from our 336 total card cube: 336 – 68 = 268 monocolored cards. 

Since we want an even distribution of each color within the packs and the Cube, we need to divide the 268 monocolor cards evenly between all five colors: 268 / 5 colors = 54 cards of each color. 

Essentially, we now have a blueprint for a balanced Cube that approximately imitates random distribution of a booster pack. 

 

Header - Rarity

“Rarity” is a vehicle for selling cards to consumers. The best and most desirable cards are more rare to incentivize consumers to buy more packs to obtain them. Since a Cube or Battle Box is a self-contained game, and not a mechanism to sell booster packs – rarity is irrelevant. 

For the purposes of the common and uncommon Innistrad Cube I’ll be modeling today, I’ve used “rarity” as a filter to limit card options. I’ve done that largely as a budgetary restriction. In my opinion, the most skill-intensive Cubes tend to have the smallest deviation between power levels of cards in packs because it gives drafters the most interesting choices when selecting cards for their decks.

 

What’s the Pick?

Ancestral RecallInferno Titan

Ancestral Recall is so much better than an Inferno Titan that it isn’t really even a choice for a knowledgeable drafter. The same might be said about putting an Olivia Voldaren into my Innistrad Cube. I prefer Cubes that give drivers the most “real” choices about how to build and customize their decks, as opposed to scripted picks where players are simply selecting cards that are significantly outclassing the other cards in the pack.

When I look at “What’s the pick?” images on social media, it’s typically the case that even a fairly novice drafter can distil the 14 options down to the best one or two options very quickly. When the power level of the cards is less variable, there are more options. When I build a Cube, I want there to be eight or more legitimate selections available every single pick. Such a dynamic is achieved by having less deviation in the power-level of the cards we select to put into the Cube stack. 

 

Header - Curve and Archetype Balance

Another thing that is great about building a common and uncommon Cube is that the cards tend to already be the building blocks of Limited formats. It’s sort of their purpose for existing in the first place to create fun, balanced and dynamic games of Limited use; as opposed to the purpose of rares and mythics, which is to unbalance or “break” games open. 

It’s also true that commons and uncommons tend to be the one, two and three-drops that make up the foundation of good draft decks. I’ve written at length in my Battle Box series about how the best way to make the games more interesting, dynamic and evenly matched is to lower the curve and be mindful about how bomby the bombs are. I see these tenants as porting directly to Cube play as well. 

As a competitive drafter, the key to repeatable success in Limited is drafting bombs and keeping the curve as low as possible. In Pro Tour caliber drafts, the first thing to get snapped up are the bombs, then the low-drop creatures and removal. One of the major ways a high level draft goes “off the rails” is when you’re unable to secure enough cheap drops to mount a consistent curve. We can simply alleviate such tension in a Cube by padding the low drops as much as possible (but equivalently between all five colors). 

Good draft decks have cheap creatures and removal. I want everyone at the table to field a good draft deck. Thus, it makes sense to include a higher density of low drops relative to expensive ones. 

 

Header - Know Your Context

I’ve drafted every iteration of Innistrad plane-themed sets many times. I’m quite familiar with how each format works and which archetypes are supported. It tends to make sense to build a Cube around something you…

  1. Enjoy
  2. Have an understanding of

The major themes of Innistrad plane expansion draft formats are:

  1. Graveyard synergies
  2. Tribal synergies
  3. Transform synergies

So, we’ll want to make sure to incorporate all of these elements and ensure players can easily build around them. Also, look for patterns with regard to two-color combinations….

Tribes tend to be affiliated with colors. On Innistrad, each color tends to have at least two strong creature type tribes. I’ve tried to focus on two tribes in each color:

  • Black = Zombies and Vampires
  • Red = Vampires and Werewolves
  • Green = Humans and Werewolves
  • White = Humans and Spirits
  • Blue = Spirits and Zombies

You’ll notice this also creates some nice dual color tribal decks:

  • UB = Zombies
  • BR = Vampires
  • GW = Humans
  • UW = Spirits
  • GR = Werewolves

Again, we want to keep everything in a relatively harmonious balance. For instance, if within our 54 black cards we have 20 Zombies and only 10 Vampires (the two supported tribes). It’s a foregone conclusion that UB (the Zombie colors) will be much stronger than another color archetype, RB (the Vampire colors). 

The balance also relates to the mana curve… If your black creature distribution is 15 Zombies and 15 Vampires but the average converted mana cost of the Zombies is 2.5 and the average mana value of Vampires is 3.8, by virtue of cheaper creatures UB will be a stronger archetype than RB. 

So, we want an even distribution of quantity and an even distribution of mana curves within each color. 

 

Header - Notes On My Own Stack

I built the Innistad Cube with the intention that it be a solid play experience out of the box, both as an eight-player draftable Cube and as a Battle Box. 

The key tenants of building Cubes and Battle Boxes are:

  • Seek balance
  • Lower the curve
  • Remove cards that feel too weak or too powerful

I think these are great rules of thumb. 

Also, I strongly believe the fun part about building a Cube or Battle Box is getting to be creative. I openly encourage people to build their own Cubes and Boxes that reflect the type of play they enjoy. I enjoy most of the Innistrad Limited formats. I love the flavor of horror themed cards. So, I built this box to play with friends. 

I also think adding some rares is an open invitation for how people would be most likely to customize my Innistrad stack. The rares I would be most interested in adding (that were excluded because of rarity) are the dual lands for mana fixing:

 

Hinterland HarborPort Town

Let’s be real, the only reason dual lands are “rare” is to sell packs of Magic: the Gathering. In terms of Limited play, they are much closer to a Common or Uncommon than the power level of a rare. For the purposes of a common and uncommon stack, I’ve worked around this issue by simply playing multiple copies of Evolving Wilds in the Cube.

The next tier of rares I’d look to add (if cost is no option) are the one-drop Tribal Creatures:

 

Falkenrath GorgerCryptbreaker

My philosophy is that games are more interesting when both players have access to spells they can play each turn. The best way to ensure all players have plays to make is to keep the curve nice and low. There’s a reason that the low drops dry up first in a professional level draft and I think having more cheap options in the pack (and in your hand) simply gives the gaming experience more depth. 

One last note, if you want to “transform” the Innistrad Cube into a 1v1 Battle Box, simply remove the 14 land cards from the stack. The ETB tapped dual land cycle forms the nonbasic contingent of each player’s Battle Box mana base. 

 

DeMars’s Common and Uncommon Innistrad Cube/Battle Box by Brian DeMars

LANDS (14 Cards)
1x Foul Orchard
1x Forsaken Sanctuary
1x Highland Lake
1x Stone Quarry
1x Woodland Stream 
1x Shimmering Grotto
8x Evolving Wilds 

*The Evolving Wilds in multiples are actually pretty nice since they help players achieve Delirium. 

 

ARTIFACTS (14 Cards)
Moonsilver Key
Terrarian 
Silver Bolt
Galvanic Juggernaut
Harvest Hand
Skeleton Key
Thraban Gargoyle
Shard of Broken Glass
Inquisitor's Flail
Neglected Heirloom 
Mask of Avacyn 
Butcher's Cleaver 
Geistcatcher's Rig
Jack-o'-Lantern

MULTICOLOR (40 Cards / 4 of Each Guild) 

BG
Grizzly Ghoul
Spider Spawning
Deadly Allure
Mournwillow

UR
Arcane Infusion 
Desperate Ravings
Storm Skreelix
Mercurial Geists

UG
Rootcoil Creeper
Ongoing Investigation 
Tracker's Instincts
Winterhorn Blessing

BW
Lingering Souls
Unburial Rites
Fleshtaker
Campaign of Defiance

GW
Travel Preparations 
Join the Dance
Dawnheart Wardens
Ray of Revelation 

UW
Faithless Mending
Devoted Grafkeeper
Drogskol Captain 
Feeling of Dread

RG
Kessig Naturalists
Immerwolf
Wild Hunger
Anceint Grudge

RW
Sacred Fire
Burning Oil 
Sunrise Cavalier
Ride Down 

BR
Fires of Undeath 
Stromkirk Captain
Hungry for More
Vampire Socialite

UB 
Diregraf Captain 
Forbidden Alchemy 
Bladestitcher Skaab
Reap the Seagraf

BLACK (54 cards)
Diregraff Ghoul
Rotten Reunion
Ghoulish Procession
Ghoulcaller's Apprentice 
Butcher Ghoul
Skirsdag Flayer
Blood Artist
Black Cat
Wailing Ghoul
Ghoulraiser 
Wakedancer 
Hobbling Zombie 
Moan of the Unhallowed 
Gisa's Bidding 
Haunted Dead
Ghoulsteed
Diregraff Horde
Indulgent Aristocrat
Bold Impaler
Vampire Cutthroat
Olivia's Dragoons
Vampire Interloper
Bloodflow Connoisseur
Call the Bloodlines
Heir of Falkenrath
Olivia's Bloodsworn
Stromkirk Bloodchief
Screeching Bat
Chosen of Markov 
Arrogant Outlaw
Falkenrath Noble
Markov's Crusader
Vengeful Vampire
Novice Occultist
Morbid Opportunist
Tooth Collector
Village Cannibals 
Covert Cutpurse
Duress
Eaten Alive
Shamble Back
Tragic Slip
Dead Weight
Undying Evil
Appetite for Brains
Foul Play
Macabre Waltz
Victim of Night
Heirloom Mirror
Defenestrate
Murderous Compulsion
Murder
Infernal Grasp
Olivia's Midnight Ambush 

GREEN (54 cards)
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Groundskeeper
Timberland Guide
Contortionists Troupe
Scorned Villager
Hamlet Captain
Obsessive Skinner
Harvesttide Sentry 
Eccentric Farmer
Trusted Forcemage
Borderland Ranger
Byway Courier
Hermit of Natterknolls
Stoic Builder
Dawnheart Mentor
Briarbridge Patrol
Young Wolf
Kessig Prowler
Snarling Wolf
Ulvenwald Captive
Gatstaff Shepherd
Duskwatch Recruiter
Lambholt Pacifist
Outland Liberator
Wolfir Avenger
Lambholt Elder
Bird Admirer
Briarpack Alpha
Ulvenwald Mysteries
Pack Guardian
Gnarlwood Dryad
Loam Shaman
Death Bonnet
Sprout
Noose Constrictor
Moldgraf Scavenger
Ulvenwald Bear
Druid's Familiar
Somberwald Stag
Rise of the Ant
Tapping at the Window
Prey Upon
Hunger of the Howlpack
Mulch
Full Moon's Rise
Rabid Bite
Grapple with the Past
Return to Nature
Gnaw to the Bone
Crawling Sensation
Ulvenwald Mysteries
Woodcutter's Grit
Howl of the Hunt
Dryad's Revival 

BLUE (54 Cards) 
Shipwreck Sifters 
Erdwal Illuminator 
Fogwalker
Tattered Haunter
Nebgast Intruder
Uninvited Geist
Fettergeist
Stormbound Geist
Niblis of Dusk
Nibghast Herald
Tower Geist
Soul Seizer
Battleground Geist
Larder Zombie
Screeching Skaab
Ingenious Skaab
Stitched Mangler
Falcon Abomination
Drunau Corpse Trawler
Stitchwing Skaab
Delver of Secrets
Nephalia Smuggler
Wingcrafter
Deranged Assistant
Invisible Stalker
Baithook Angler
Covetous Castaway
Civilized Scholar
Grizzled Angler
Overwhelmed Archivist
Aberrant Researcher
Drownyard Explorers
Stern Mentor
Gryff's Vangard
Murder of Crows
Phantom Carriage
Mist Raven 
Secrets of the Key
Silent Departure
Thought Scour
Essence Flux
Consider
Geistwave
Press for Answers
Think Twice
Spectral Flight
Unsubstantiate
Claustrophobia
Divination
Ghostly Flicker
Drag Under
Amass the Components
Gone Missing
Pore Over the Pages 

RED (54 Cards)
Reckless Wolf
Deranged Whelp
Hinterland Hermit
Kessig Forgemaster
Village Ironsmith
Pyreheart Wolf
Hanweir Watchkeep
Conduit of Storms
Smoldering Wolf
Harvesttide Infiltrator
Fangblade Brigand
Insolent Neonate
Voldaren Stinger
Falkenrath Reaver 
Furyblade Vampire
Falkenrath Exterminator
Crossroads Vampire
Erdwald Ripper
Havengul Vampire
Falkenwrath Foragers
Stensia Innkeeper
Incorrigible Youth
Forge Devil
Stone Wight
Obsessive Astronomer
Lightning Mauler
Gibbering Fiend
Thermo-Alchemist
Festival Crasher
Hanweir Lancer
Fervant Cathar
Weaver of Lightning
Ardent Elementalist
Purifying Dragon
Seize the Storm
Play with Fire
Immolation
Raze the Effigy
Galvanic Bombardment
Pillar of Flame
Lightning Axe
Skin Invasion
Tormenting Voice
Harvest Pyre
Incendiary Flow
Senseless Rage
Cathartic Pyre
Brimstone Volley
Rolling Temblor
Fiery Temper
Savage Alliance
Lunar Frenzy
Moonrager's Slash
Thunderous Wrath 

WHITE (54 cards)
Gavony Trapper
Town Gossipmonger
Thraben Inspector
Lunarch Veteran
Doomed Traveler
Chaplain of Arms
Gavony Trapper
Avacyn Priest
Unruly Mob
Gather the Townsfolk
Loyal Cathar
Cloistered Youth
Thraben Heretic
Fiend Hunter
Ironclad Slayer
Search Party Captain
Slayer of the Wicked
Nearheath Chaplain
Courageous Outrider
Toppelgeist
Guardian of Pilgrims
Spectral Rider
Niblis of the Urn
Moorland Drifter
Vessel of Ephemera
Geist of Lonely Vigil
Spectral Shepherd
Midnight Haunting
Loyal Gryff
Chapel Geist
Emancipation Angel
Voiceless Spirit
Hollowhenge Spirit
Seraph of Dawn
Mausoleum Guard
Gallows Warden
Subjugator Angel
Goldnight Redeemer
Faith's Shield
Cloudshift
Strength of Arms
Gryff's Boon
Homestead Courage
Puncturing Light
Intangible Virtue
Blessed Alliance
Moment of Heroism
Sunset Revelry
Cathar's Call
Bonds of Faith
Borrowed Time
Rebuke
Choking Restraints
Banishing Stroke
Silverstrike

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