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Introducing the Brian DeMars Danger Cube!

Brian DeMars is my name and Battle Boxing is my game! It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a decade since I cobbled together the first Battle Box (affectionately dubbed “The Danger Room”) and that I’m still finding new ways to innovate and enjoy my little format in a box all these years later. 

I’m excited to share today’s article because it brings a lot of new information and ideas to the table for fans of the format. For the past five months, I’ve been deep in my brewer’s laboratory working on a formal redesign of my stack that’s going to really shake up the way we think about how a Battle Box can be played. I’ve been teasing the idea that I’ve been working on tuning my stack into a dual purpose Battle Box/draftable Cube and today the fruits of that labor will finally be revealed. 

 

 

Header - What is a Battle Box?

A Battle Box is a casual Magic variant format. Each player will be given the same “cache” of 10 lands that will start the game in exile: 

Island (286)Swamp (288)Plains (284)Mountain (290)Forest (292)Elfhame PalaceUrborg VolcanoSalt MarshCoastal TowerShivan Oasis

Players may play one land card from their mana cache each turn as though it were in their hand. 

The rest of the cards (the spells) are randomized into one big shared stack of cards. Players draw an opening hand of five or six cards (depending upon house rules) from the big stack and draw one card off the big stack for their draw step.

Essentially, I’ve created a matrix where each player will have equal access to mana (both quantity and quality of mana fixing) and will always draw a spell card from the deck, thus eliminating the variance of mana screw or flood from gameplay. 

Mana ScrewFlood

The concept of the format (and the reason I designed it) was to create a Magic format variant and play experience where two players could immediately sit down and start slinging Magic out of a box. If you see “Danger Room” attached to a Battle Box, that’s the pet name given to my big stack and means it’s based upon my model/design. 

So, some might say a Battle Box is sort of the ultimate 1v1 Cube experience, but what if you wanted an actual draftable, multiplayer Cube experience? Why can’t we have both? Now you can!

 

Header - The DeMars Danger Cube

What I sought to create was a Battle Box that could function in the traditional 1v1 style but could also be multiplayer drafted like a Cube. It sounds simple enough, but it was actually quite a challenge to create! 

A big source of the tension between Battle Box and Cube arises because in Battle Box mana is “fixed” but when a Cube is drafted and a deck is assembled, mana becomes variant. So, every card must be functional in both modes of play without breaking the unwritten rules of either format.

I also wanted the play of my stack to have that authentic feel of Danger Rooms I’ve built in the past. When I describe the “power level” of my stack, I often say that I want the games to feel like two exceptional Limited decks going head-to-head. I like a lot of back and forth and cards that are as flexible as possible without being overbearingly possible. I’d describe it as mythic-less Magic. I include few cards that I’d consider to have a mythic power level:

Umezawa's JitteGrave TitanQuesting Beast

One of the first things I learned about building a Battle Box was that since players don’t have any control over the random cards they draw from the stack that it doesn’t make a ton of sense to include cards that are so powerful they win the game if not immediately answered. So, I knew that my Cube would also reflect The Danger Room’s knack for creating interactive, mythic-less Magic gameplay. 

Much in the same way that the original Danger Room sought to remove the variance of losing to one’s mana to facilitate a lively back and forth between duelists, the Cube variant of Danger Room aims to provide a draftable experience where each player can build any classic Limited archetype they desire sans the bomb rares and mythics at the top end. 

The “power level” of my stack (both for Battle Boxing and Cube drafting) is very much aimed at players having top quality draft decks from across the spectrum of classic Limited archetypes that lack only the mythic level bombs. So, for instancem a player might draft a terrific UW Skies deck but it won’t have a Dragonlord Ojutai in the mix. 

 

Header - Configuration and Mana Fixing

I picked a nice round number for the DeMars Danger Cube: 340 draftable cards. At 336 total cards, the complete stack breaks down into 24 packs of 14 cards each. Each player will draft 42 total cards and then add basic lands to complete a 40-card draft deck (the same as a traditional booster draft). 

Here’s the breakdown: 

  • 35 monocolor cards of each color x five colors = 175 cards.
  • Seven dual-color cards of each guild combination x 10 guilds = 70 cards. 
  • Two tri-color cards of each shard/wedge combination x 10 combinations = 20 cards. 
  • 20 artifacts = 20 artifacts. 

Total = 285 cards

These 285 cards make up the complete Battle Box. In addition, I’ve also created a 46-card “mana pack” to be randomly added to the Battle Box contents when drafted. The Mana Pack contains additional color fixing lands and artifacts that will help define the draftable mana bases. 

The Mana Pack

I often believe that simple is best. If we aim to create games that are enjoyable, it makes a lot of sense to look at examples of Limited formats that people tend to agree are a lot of fun and examine what makes them so much fun. 

At 46 total cards, when randomized into the stack, the additional mana pack represents about two cards per pack, meaning each of the 24 total packs opened will hold approximately two mana fixing cards which I find to be a very reasonable amount. Also, since my stack is largely built upon multicolor spells from Battle Box, I wanted to make sure that each draft deck has suitably flexible mana building options to choose from.

I went with the crème de la crème of Limited mana fixing: 

Signets

Azorius SignetDimir SignetRakdos SignetSimic SignetBoros SignetIzzet SignetSelesnya SignetOrzhov SignetGruul SignetGolgari Signet

Bounce Lands

Simic Growth ChamberDimir AqueductAzorius ChanceryIzzet BoilerworksGruul TurfBoros GarrisonSelesnya SanctuaryRakdos CarnariumGolgari Rot FarmOrzhov Basilica

Vivid Lands

Vivid CreekVivid GroveVivid MeadowVivid MarshVivid Crag

Thriving Lands

Thriving IsleThriving MoorThriving HeathThriving BluffThriving Grove

Tri Lands

Opulent PalaceSandsteppe CitadelMystic MonasteryFrontier BivouacNomad OutpostSavage LandsCrumbling NecropolisArcane SanctumJungle ShrineSeaside Citadel

Miscellaneous

Terramorphic ExpanseEvolving WildsPrismatic VistaFabled PassageCity of BrassExotic Orchard

Across the board, I consider the mana fixing cards I’ve selected to be among the most fun and impactful from Limited formats of the past. The configuration of my stack (which is approximately a third multicolor) feels very much like a multicolor themed blocks like Invasion, Ravnica or Shards of Alara blocks and so my first instinct was to go directly to the excellent color-fixing lands those blocks offered geared toward Limited play.

A few of the basic tenants of the format remain intact, even when drafting and adding color fixing to draft decks. Color fixing comes at the cost of taking a turn off to play a tapped land. It’s not free. Also, as a bonus, the mana base is fairly inexpensive on the wallet compared to mana bases that use fetches, shocks and duals. A player could certainly experiment with other mana producing options, but I personally find the mana pack I’ve assembled to fit the flavor and power level of the stack I want to play with. 

 

Header - Monocolor Spells

Balance is perhaps the most important quality in a well wrought Cube and/or Battle Box. 

Balance

No, not that Balance…. I’m talking about ensuring that all of the colors are more or less equally powerful and/or useful within the context of the big stack. 

One of the biggest flaws I see when looking at other people’s Cubes is that the colors are not balanced relative to one another. Obviously, we want the same number of cards of each color or combination of colors, but we also want all of the color combinations to be equally enticing to drafters. A lot of powered Cubes tend to max out each color with the most powerful spells of each color, which is a great idea on principle until we consider colors like blue and green tend to have more powerful cards in the one percent range. 

Ideally, instead of picking the top 1one percent of each color to include, I wanted to be somewhere in the middle where there is a lot of ambiguity about what’s actually better or worse. I also tried to apply a specific range of mana values (both with regard to creature and noncreature spells) within each color. 

  • 5x MV = 1 Creatures
  • 5x MV = 1 Noncreature Spells
  • 5x MV = 2 Creatures
  • 5x MV = 2 Noncreature Spells 

So, approximately 60 percent of my monocolor cards will have a MV less than or equal to two (the average gets dragged up to around half of the cards being two or less because multicolor spells tend to cost a little bit more with less MV = 1 options).

For those who follow my Battle Box content, you’ll recall that my mantra for Battle Boxes is to grind the mana value curve down until it feels too low and then go even further. I’ve certainly followed my own advice here and what it creates is a Battle Box and Cube that is extremely unique and in my opinion extremely fun to play. 

Here’s an image from my stack of red cards laid out by mana curve. Notice we have lots of cheap and flexible options at the bottom and fewer options at the top of the curve. The distribution is similar to what we’d expect to find in a booster pack with the caveat that on the whole, there’s less variance between the power level of cards. We’re not cracking packs with Grizzly Bears and Dragonlord Ojutais; instead, we have solid, balanced cards and our cards that feel and play like rares feel decidedly un-mythic. 

Another thing that I wanted to bake into my deck is the idea of playing Magic all across the entire history of the game. While my stack does disproportionately represent the multicolor sets/blocks (because it’s a multicolor stack), I’ve tried to incorporate at least one card from most Magic sets and releases. Was I able to find a card from Prophecy? Nope, but let’s just say that’s an homage to how bad Prophecy was! 

 

Header - Multicolor Spells

Multicolor gold spells are a huge part of my Danger Room/Battle Box experience and so there was no chance I wasn’t going to bring that to my Danger Cube rebuild. I’m featuring seven dual-color spells of each combination and two of each tri-color spells in the stack. 

When drafting, I wanted to incentivize two and three-color decks that can be built around a theme. While it’s theoretically possible to draft a monocolor deck with the 35 monocolor spells of each color and 20 artifacts, I wanted to incentivize two or more colors. 

Again, I generally keep the curve on the multicolor spells as low as possible with the majority not having a mana value greater than three. Also, bear in mind that there are a lot of hybrid and split cards that can be played outside of their color identity which adds some umph to the mix. 

Another neat little idea I’ve put into play is the concept of having the Danger Cube facilitate a four-player Commander draft. I haven’t fully flushed the concept out yet because I wasn’t able to find a full cast of commanders I felt were appropriate for the Battle Box and traditional Cube Draft variants without creating “Mythic Warp.” However, as WOTC continues to print more three-color legendary creatures, I’d love to see one of each shard/wedge eventually find a home within the stack to draft or build Dangerous Commander decks with. 

 

Header - The Danger Cube Deck List

White – 35

1 Thraben Inspector
1 Soul Warden
1 Hopeful Eidolon
1 Mother of Runes
1 Sacred Cat
1 Cartouche of Solidarity
1 Ethereal Armor
1 Ephemerate
1 Blacksmith's Skill
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Immolating Glare
1 Pacifism
1 Blessed Alliance
1 Valorous Stance
1 Selfless Spirit
1 Twinblade Geist/Twinblade Invocation
1 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
1 Wall of Omens
1 Remorseful Cleric
1 Karmic Guide
1 Cleansing Nova
1 Disenchant
1 Wall of Reverence
1 Restoration Angel
1 Hidden Dragonslayer
1 Master of Pearls
1 Blade Splicer
1 Spear of Heliod
1 Lingering Souls
1 Fanatical Devotion
1 Council's Judgment
1 Flickerwisp
1 Wrath of God (039/332)
1 Cloudgoat Ranger
1 Exalted Angel

Blue – 35

1 Force Spike
1 Dispel
1 Spell Snare
1 Hard Evidence
1 Unstable Mutation
1 Lantern Bearer/Lanterns' Lift
1 Cloudfin Raptor
1 Spectral Sailor
1 Pteramander
1 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration
1 Augur of Bolas
1 Merfolk Trickster
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Merfolk Looter
1 False Summoning
1 Watcher for Tomorrow
1 Counterspell
1 Miscalculation
1 Remand
1 Mana Leak
1 Bonded Fetch
1 Man-o'-War
1 Sea Gate Oracle
1 Circular Logic
1 Repulse
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Deep Analysis
1 Talrand's Invocation
1 Archaeomancer
1 Mulldrifter
1 Morphling
1 Brine Elemental
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Stratus Dancer
1 Willbender

Black – 35

1 Unearth
1 Thoughtseize
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Bloodchief's Thirst
1 Fatal Push
1 Cryptbreaker
1 Thrull Parasite
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Knight of the Ebon Legion
1 Bloodsoaked Champion
1 Dance of the Dead
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Collective Brutality
1 Night's Whisper
1 Doom Blade
1 Putrid Goblin
1 Tymaret, Chosen from Death
1 Blood Artist
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Plaguebearer
1 Grim Haruspex
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Silumgar Assassin
1 Big Game Hunter
1 Bane of the Living
1 Soul Shatter
1 Painful Truths
1 Dismember
1 Nekrataal
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Dread Return
1 Phyrexian Plaguelord
1 Shriekmaw
1 Chainer's Edict
1 Hypnotic Specter

Red – 35

1 Zurgo Bellstriker
1 Monastery Swiftspear
1 Soul-Scar Mage
1 Blazing Rootwalla
1 Falkenrath Pit Fighter
1 Dreadhorde Arcanist
1 Rix Maadi Reveler
1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
1 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Abbot of Keral Keep
1 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Skirk Marauder
1 Fire Imp
1 Merchant of the Vale/Haggle
1 Vulshok Sorcerer
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Faithless Looting
1 Firebolt
1 Chain Lightning
1 Lava Coil
1 Incendiary Flow
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Incinerate
1 Thrill of Possibility
1 Fiery Temper
1 Resounding Thunder
1 Fiery Confluence
1 Disintegrate
1 Volcanic Dragon
1 Blistering Firecat
1 Anger

Green – 35

1 Deathmist Raptor
1 Den Protector
1 Tapping at the Window
1 Inscription of Abundance
1 Moment's Peace
1 Saproling Migration
1 Sprout Swarm
1 Basking Rootwalla
1 Gilded Goose
1 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Deathbonnet Sprout/Deathbonnet Hulk
1 Chainweb Aracnir
1 Snakeskin Veil
1 Abundant Growth
1 Squirrel Sanctuary
1 Rancor
1 Vines of Vastwood
1 Noose Constrictor
1 Rattleclaw Mystic
1 River Boa
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Autumn Willow
1 Hooded Hydra
1 Arasta of the Endless Web
1 Eidolon of Blossoms
1 Elephant Guide
1 Harmonize
1 Saproling Burst
1 Spider Spawning
1 Eternal Witness
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Selesnya Eulogist
1 Elvish Spirit Guide
1 Verdant Force

Artifacts – 20

1 Phyrexian Furnace
1 Cursed Scroll
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Scrabbling Claws
1 Bloodforged Battle-Axe
1 Bonesplitter
1 Zephyr Boots
1 Basilisk Collar
1 Flayer Husk
1 Contagion Clasp
1 Spellskite
1 Epochrasite
1 Wall of Junk
1 Fountain of Renewal
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
1 Stonecoil Serpent
1 Whispersilk Cloak
1 Perilous Vault
1 Triskelion
1 Engineered Explosives

Two-Color Cards

1 Cloudblazer
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Senate Guildmage
1 Wall of Denial
1 Mistmeadow Witch
1 Absorb
1 Faithful Mending
1 Nahiri, Storm of Stone
1 Boros Challenger
1 Boros Reckoner
1 Thrilling Discovery
1 Lightning Helix
1 Sunhome Guildmage
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Thought Erasure
1 Psychatog
1 Hostage Taker
1 Undermine
1 Dimir Guildmage
1 Baleful Strix
1 Nightveil Predator
1 Deathrite Shaman
1 Ravenous Squirrel
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Golgari Guildmage
1 Lotleth Troll
1 Dreg Mangler
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Domri's Ambush
1 Bloodbraid Elf (Timeshifted)
1 Rhythm of the Wild
1 Zhur-Taa Druid
1 Grumgully, the Generous
1 Burning-Tree Emissary
1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Razorfin Hunter
1 Suffocating Blast
1 Fire/Ice
1 Swerve
1 Sprite Dragon
1 Prophetic Bolt
1 Dack's Duplicate
1 Humiliate
1 Sin Collector
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Cartel Aristocrat
1 Consecrate/Consume
1 Call to the Feast
1 Utter End
1 Kalain, Reclusive Painter
1 Rakdos Headliner
1 Blightning
1 Kolaghan's Command
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Mayhem Devil
1 Terminate
1 Juniper Order Ranger
1 Good-Fortune Unicorn
1 Armadillo Cloak
1 Selesnya Charm
1 Dromoka's Command
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Fleecemane Lion
1 Maraleaf Pixie
1 Ethereal Ambush
1 Jungle Barrier
1 Decisive Denial
1 Mystic Snake
1 Slippery Bogle
1 Merfolk Skydiver

Wedges/Shards – 20 Cards

1 Doran, the Siege Tower
1 Abzan Charm
1 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
1 Sultai Charm
1 Arcades, the Strategist
1 Bant Charm
1 Marath, Will of the Wild
1 Naya Charm
1 Sharuum the Hegemon
1 Esper Charm
1 Savage Knuckleblade
1 Temur Charm
1 Sprouting Thrinax
1 Jund Charm
1 Rise/Fall
1 Slave of Bolas
1 Lightning Angel
1 Mantis Rider
1 Crackling Doom
1 Butcher of the Horde

 

Header - Designer's Notes

I’d like to wrap up today’s lengthy article by sharing a little bit of insight about building and tuning Battle Boxes, Cubes or as is the case with today’s article… a little bit of the best of both worlds. 

One of the coolest and most rewarding attributes about building your own format is that it you can personalize it to be whatever you’d like it to be and I strongly recommend spending some time to think about how to put your own unique and creative spin on your own format. 

For my stack, because I write about it and use it as a teaching device for helping others to realize their own creative format-building potential tends to stay fairly generic in a lot of ways. My theme for Danger Room has always been and always will be about highlighting the history of the game across eras and bringing all sorts of fun and flavorful cards into a new and exciting context where they can be enjoyed in new gameplay contexts. Let’s see how Morphling holds its own against older and new cards, for instance. 

I also try to identify aspects of play and play patterns that tend to be overwhelmingly popular with players and fans to include and build around and try to shy away from cards and play patterns that are polarizing. For instance, my “mana pack” is exactly the kind of mana base building that a lot of players would agree has traditionally been really fun in the past. I’m going to give players a bunch of really sweet cards and iconic Limited archetypes to dabble in and the mana to allow those strategies to come to life. The inverse, land destruction, is going to tend to be a play pattern player’s tend to find polarizing (some may love it and others hate it) and so I tend to keep mana denial off limits for the most part. 

Another like vs dislike dichotomy that I’ve built upon is the configuration of booster packs while drafting. Pushing the mana value of the Cube/Battle Box down and prioritizing utility and flexibility leads to more opportunities to wheel useful cards out of a pack. In particular, the stack has a lot of one and two-drops, which means players won’t necessarily need to prioritize drafting for curve and can focus a bit more on synergy and deckbuilding, as opposed to “must take two-drop.” 

Willbender

Another example, morphs. Two of my all time favorite Limited formats, Onslaught and Khans Blocks, utilize the morph mechanic as a format-defining attribute and I love that style of gameplay. So, with that in mind, I have a disproportionately high number of fun and interesting creatures with morph in my stack. Always remember that it’s your stack, so don’t be afraid to try out your own ideas or favorite cards. I’ll let you in on another little secret… I tend to include cards that I’ve enjoyed playing not only in Limited over the years but also Constructed. There are tons of little nods throughout the DeMars Danger Cube to various cards my friends and I have had success with in tournament play. I love to give new life to old cards that perhaps don’t have any other home in construction.

Magic’s greatest attribute is its adaptability and customization. “Playing Magic” is a lot bigger and more interesting than online Constructed formats dominated by Modern Horizons era mythic-centric design. In a Constructed tournament, we are beholden to the context of the metagame to inform our card choices but when it comes to designing a Cube or Battle Box, the sky’s the limit. Whatever you can imagine and balance out can be brought to life on the tabletop. 

I always, always, always change up my stack – that’s how I play Magic. I like sharing my current list here on CFB as a guideline for players to look at but I really encourage fans of Battle Box or Cube to experiment with your own ideas and favorite cards. Also, there’s a ton of room to toy around with the cards in the Danger Cube. If you don’t own some specific rare, just replace it with a card with a similar type and mana value; changing 10, 20 or more cards isn’t going to make too significant of a difference in a 350-card format (as long as you’re not adding Umezawa’s Jittes and Okos). Don’t be afraid to jam some new cards (or cards from previous Battle Box updates). My goal with the series is to identify cards that have a lot of fun, flexible and interesting replayability and give ’em a good shuffling up.

 

7 thoughts on “Introducing the Brian DeMars Danger Cube!”

  1. Hey GILU1, which category are the cards missing from? I did a hand-count of the article text and the only missing card I noticed was there were only 34 Red Cards (the missing Red Card is Lightning Bolt). If you let me know I’ll double check the stack to make sure everything here is caught up.

  2. Thanks for this article – this looks very interesting. Red is missing a card and the photo shows a Lightning Bolt which is not in teh list so is that is the missing card?

  3. I think what GILU1 was referring to was that you said there were 340 draft able cards. The list shows 285 cards plus 46 mana cards which add up to 331. For 8 players to draft 42 cards each you need 336 cards. You also say there are a total of 340 cards. Are there some cards in the Mana section missing?

  4. I have tried to achieve the same thing from the other direction. I use my normal cube as a battle box by introducing the following rules – one library, separate graveyards, three card starting hand, no mulligans, you may play a basic land from exile every turn, tutors find the first legal target off the bottom of the stack, nonbasic lands and cards that let you set the top of the library more than once cycle for {1} instead of having their usual effect. This means only carrying one set of cards (and lands) whether you are battle boxing or cubing. I call it “Advanced Battlebox” 🙂

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