Monday, April 16, 2012

Cube Blog: Increasing Levels of Tribal Design

One of the things I keep talking about in this blog series is the difference between the tribal sub-theme in The Mighty Morphin' Cube versus your standard, straight up Tribal Cube. I'm definitely not an expert in terms of Cube design, but I had a few ideas and you can tell me if you agree or not with my decisions:

Christopher writes:
"No Daru Stinger? It now counts humans as well as soldiers."
(Daru Stinger is an example of a tribal card I would never include in the Cube.)

I don't mean to put him on the spot and/or embarrass him or anything like that by highlighting his comment here. It was a good suggestion for a Tribal Cube. After all, Daru Stinger was one of the most powerful commons to pick up when drafting Onslaught Block. But when I say that morph is the main theme of the Cube and tribal is just a sub-theme, I really mean it. And I mean it in more than just words -- it's not just a cute label.

I think the biggest difference between my Cube and normal Tribal Cubes is how narrow those tribes seem to be versus the open ended approach I tried to take. When looking at some Tribal Cube lists, it seems to me that each tribe was just packed with the best-of-the-best spells and creatures of each. That sounds good in theory, but in practice I suspect that during the draft it would degenerate into each player figuring out which tribe was open which then would lead each player to staying within their own tribe while staying far, far away from everyone else's picks. That kind of defeats the purpose of the draft, at least a little bit, don't you think? If competition for picks is diminished and everyone is just staying out of everyone else's way, you're mostly competing against the randomness of the booster packs and competing less with the other players in the draft. That being said, there is value in being able to draft "the best tribal deck ever."

Ignoring slivers for now since they're a special case, here's a list of the 7 tribes in the Cube in increasing levels of narrowness:
  1. Beasts - The beasts get the honor of being the most open ended tribe in the Cube and this mostly has to do with the fact that the best creatures of the tribe each have morph or cycling (with rare exception). With cards like Treespring Lorian, Venomspout Brackus, Titanic Bulvox, Towering Baloth, Krosan Colossus, Krosan Cloudscraper, Mischievous Quanar, and Weaver of Lies, each of these beasts will prime picks for any player who is going for a morph strategy. Because they have morph and because they're huge, they're prime targets for all the morph tricks the Cube has to offer. The only two real tribal specific cards are Ravenous Baloth and Contested Cliffs. Everything else is fair game to be splashed in almost any other deck. (If you first pick the Ravenous Baloth, he's a perfectly fine creature if you only have 1-2 other beasts in your deck and even if he's the only beast, he's still a good sized body that gains life.)
  2. Clerics - Like the beasts, the clerics are splashed in many other archetypes the Cube has to offer. But instead of huge beaters, clerics represent utility creatures that can support other strategies. Sure the clerics have Rotlung Reanimator and Cabal Archon, but other than that, there's nothing else that really ties them together as a tribe.
  3. Zombies - Next we come to the zombies who have a unique distinction for featuring 1cc creatures with 2 power. You can't find this in any other tribe. You might be able to scrounge together enough of them and then top them off with an Undead Warchief, but if you go that far, you'll probably just find yourself just going down a mono black strategy (not necessarily zombies). Zombies get #3 on this list because while they are unique among the different tribes, you can't actually just go zombies without bleeding into other archetypes by the end. Even if the boosters and picks you're given lead you away from morph, sliver, or other multi-color strategies, "zombies" just aren't the best archetype that mono black has to offer.
  4. Wizards - Now we're getting somewhere. The wizards only have a few tribal specific cards, but the few they have are very good. Voidmage Prodigy single-handedly represents the only sustainable counter based control strategy the Cube has to offer. If I first picked a Voidmage Prodigy I'd definitely be on the lookout to see if the next few packs could support the UR Wizard archetype. And then you have Lavamancer's Skill which gives any wizard you control the ability to tap to take any any morphed creature on the battlefield. After that, add in other creatures like Grim Lavamancer, Magus of the Scroll, Aven Mindcensor, as well as things like Skirk Alarmist and a number of utility creatures with morph and you have yourself the first cohesive tribal deck on this list.
  5. Soldiers - The soldiers were a little tough because there were a number of different directions to go with them. In the end, I deceptively open token strategy would be best for this. I say "deceptively open" because in this Cube, 1/1 critters just aren't very good against a battlefield gummed up with 2/2 morphed creatures. My hope is that even though the token producers I include in the Cube are good in a normal format (Raise the Alarm, Timely Reinforcements, Decree of Justice, etc.), they much less good in the context of this Cube. This is by design. My hope is that all the token producers will be initially passed in picks 1-6 or so, so that the lucky soul that opened Captain of the Watch can gobble them all up. The idea is that Captain of the Watch is literally the only card in the entire Cube that you can open that would make "going soldiers" a worth while endeavor. I can see Timely Reinforcements being taken by a UW or WB control type deck, but for the most part, it'll be very situational. For the most part, they'll be left for the captain-ing player.
  6. Elves - The elves are kind of funny. There are so many cards that have effects which get more powerful the more elves you have in play, such as Wellwisher, Priest of Titania, Timberwatch Elf, and Wirewood Channeler and yet... you really only need 1-3 other elves in play before you get into overkill territory. They could even be on the battlefield as the only elf in play and they would still give you reasonable value. It's for this reason that elves are only #6 on this list instead of #7. Because these elves are good in small numbers, they don't necessarily have to be featured in a dedicated elf tribal deck. They're very good in that deck, but other players may find use in a "first turn mana elf into second turn morphed creature." The elves are very good as a tribe, but they also have a lot of value as splash in other archetypes.
  7. Goblins - Like the soldiers, the goblin tribal archetype supports a swarm strategy. But unlike the soldiers, the goblins want to do it with non-token cards like Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Recruiter, and Goblin Matron. They do have token generators in the form of Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Marshal, but they're only half as good without the enablers. Among all the different tribes, the goblin deck is the most narrow because the strength of it comes from packing it with as many goblins as possible and nothing else. If you don't get to a critical mass of goblin cards within your goblin deck, there's a huge drop off in over power of the deck.
My hope is that different tribes represent different levels of narrowness: Some tribes like beasts, clerics, and zombies bring roleplayers to be injected into other greater, non-tribal archetypes. Other tribes like wizards and soldiers represent very specific circumstances where being able to draft a tribal deck out of them would be a rare occurance, but if you were successfully able to cobble the right combination of cards together, you'd end up with a pretty strong deck. And then there are other tribes like elves and goblins which have many enablers, lords, and miscellaneous tribal cards which mimic the tribal archetypes found in traditional Tribal Cubes. While tribal decks can be fun to force occasionally, I strongly disagree with the idea of all narrow tribes all the time. If I wanted to do that, I might as well have just made a Tribal Cube.

To bring this back to the decision to leave out cards like Daru Stinger, I didn't include the stinger because he's worthless without other soldiers. He needs to be able to consistently deal 2+ damage at all times to pass the morph test. He might have been very good in Onslaught Block, but in this Cube, he doesn't pass the test. This is contrasted with some of the elves like Priest of Titania or Timberwatch Elf. Even if any one of those elves is the only elf on the battlefield, they still bring a lot of value to the table, while the stinger does not.

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