This was the inaugural/first playtest Draft with the Redbay Custom Cube (RCC), which can be found >> here <<.
A little bit of background– My primary mode of playing Magic: The Gathering at current (and for the last 10ish years) is cube, whether it’s my traditional cube, my randomly-generated-and-subsequently-stickered-cube, our proxied rendition of Andy Mangold’s Degenerate Micro Cube, or this new cube with the RCC.
I don’t want to dedicate much space to my history with this whole “Custom sets for a custom limited and custom constructed environment,” but it bears mentioning that there was a plan (even if it wasn’t thought out.) I did Alpha 22 (A22) as a base set for a non-rotating custom format. Players would draft, play games, and then be allowed to trade cards with each other, to create “schoolyard” constructed decks. We did a small custom set expansion, Caves of Orana (COO), to add more cards into the larger environment. As Traegar (TGR) went through its design phase, it became apparent that the hours of work put into designing the cards did not justify the actual time played.
Fast forward through all of these epiphanies, and we come to the RCC. A custom cube, made with custom cards (with a couple reprints), and the concept of a modular rotation, to emulate set releases and set rotation.
Alpha 22 – Design Notes
A22 is defined by the absence of the Planeswalker card type, and a focused push to make noncreature artifact and enchantment cards the linchpins of a given strategy. This increases the value of naturalize, counter spell, and hand disruption effects to remove these game pieces before they begin accruing long term value.
Caves of Orana – Design Notes
COO introduces Delve and Explore. This module includes many self-mill, sacrifice, and discard outlets to fill the graveyard quickly. Most decks will utilize the graveyard as a resource as either a focused archetype or as a biproduct of the cards included.
Traegar – Design Notes
Traegar is a 3-color faction set, with a mix of shards and wedges. It also had strong artifact and land themes; the former mixes favorably with both A22 and COO offerings, while the latter creates a more self-enclosed ramp strategy within the environment. The larger percentage of 3c cards in the Cube environment adds some texture, offering lanes to drafters to pursue a splash as needed.
Results and Some Deck Techs
There was a mixed energy this playtest afternoon. A couple of playtesters came into the event groggy from the night before, others had a heightened interest in the event to come (like they had designed the cards or something) and some were just happy to hang out.
I opted to just let the event vibe, as overtly requesting feedback tended to result in strong opinions for the sake of them. If somebody had something to say, good or bad, they’d say it, whether or not I asked.
Below you’ll find the placings, as well as color spread and archetype mix.
1st Place: 3-0 Red Black Reanimator
2nd Place: 2-1 Red White Aggro
3rd Place: 2-1 Blue White Black Control
4th Place: 2-1 Red/White Aggro // Blue/Black Mill
Fifth Place: 1-2 4 Color (no black) Ramp
Sixth Place: 1-2 Blue Red Green Prowess
Seventh Place: 1-2 White Blue Black Tempo
Eight Place: 0-3 Green Red Blue Lands
First Place Deck Tech
Red Black Reanimator
Shunal and Khoron does a Griselbrand impression, while Troghan of the Five Magics offers a kind of Wurmcoil Engine and Goblin Rabblemaster cross-card. When asked, the winning player said that they preferred to reanimate Troghan given the choice, unless they suspected instant speed artifact removal.
Kila, Scourge of Orana included as both threat as well as combo protection, rebuying one of the other bombs in the face of singular removal spell.
The Reanimation Spells
The Reanimator player had a lot of redundancy of effects, including the reanimation spells. Arise Ghoul is the cheapest and most direct of the bunch, but comes with the heavy cost of reducing the target’s size– this often meant that Arise, Ghoul was aimed at Kila to get the Undying protection onto the battlefield.
Sinister Redemption offers modality in being a card to pitch to a discard spell for a cheap one-time reanimation effect, or the slower route of casting for full cost and then flashed back later as needed.
Tablet serves double-duty in card selection and ability to bin reanimation targets early, then acting as a reanimation spell later in the game.
The cube currently doesn’t have an Entomb effect. Players need to use discard outlets like Desperate Ramblings or Faithful Scrounger, or self-mill effects, in order to get their bombs into the graveyard for a quick reanimation combo.
Pirate Devil included in this section as a great early threat that smooths your draws as you navigate towards a win, and a strong creature to recur with Kila’s undying ability.
The RB Reanimator player first picked Shunal and Khoron, which I like to think of as first picking Griselbrand in a Legacy or Vintage cube, and then stayed the course throughout the draft to assemble a very consistent reanimator package. The success of the deck likely laid in having redundancy in threats, reanimation spells, and enablers. It was impressive to see this strategy pulled off coherently and consistently on the first play test; it’ll be interesting to see if this remains a major player, as some pieces may now be snapped by players speculatively, hurting the redundancy of the dedicated drafter.
Third Place Deck Tech
Blue, White, Black Control
All The Wraths
Our third place player first picked Wrath of the Gravecoil, and took three other wrath effects over the course of the game (Unpictured: Languish). By running a monopoly on the wraths available in the cube, the player was able to sculpt board states to make them the most effective, and the redundancy meant that one could be used to set the opponent up for a blowout when not expecting the second.
Wrath of the Gravecoil is a particularly potent control card, offering a combination of board clear and late game threat in one card
Enter the Battlefield Triggers
Mind Made Matter is a powerful engine card when combined with creatures with strong enter the battlefield triggers and a bit of board advantage. Greatlands Pathwarden acts as card draw engine and life-stabilizer. Hunting Chupacabra can clear away most threats without difficulty. And finally, Husk Raiser Adept does an excellent Grave Titan impression when combined with Mind Made Matter to create an army of tokens to swiftly close the game.
This control deck lost to a Red / White aggressive deck in the second round, which showed off the potency of going under the board wipes as well as putting pressure on the opponent to make Mind Made Matter an ineffectual card. This deck really shines against midrange strategies, which likely can’t mount enough pressure to stop a Mind Made Matter setup, or present threats that can’t just be removed by a combination of wrath effects.
Unlike Red Black Reanimator, I think that this deck will be draftable in many subsequent events, though it will be unlikely to amass all the combinations of cards noted above as cards like Wrath of the Gravecoil and Mind Made Matter [both passed to this player during the draft] get taken higher by the competing players.
Some More Cards and Musings
Our eighth place player did sneak attack Jogan, the Mountain into play against our seventh place player. Ouch. It’s hard for me to evaluate Cya against Sneak Attack, in the sense that the body has more utility than its enchantment counterpart, but waiting a turn and cost of activation is so steep in comparison.
Jogan is in that unlikable zone of pretty terrible in many games, and then randomly winning games you didn’t deserve to win in others, and is on my list for revisiting.
I had the pleasure of playing both these cards in my deck. Going into the event, Nourishing Manaline was a slow card that I might want some of the time in my green decks; Spiritblossom was a card that I wanted in all of my decks– I love Bitterblossom, why would an extra mana and no life payment change my mind?
After the event, I’m surprisingly closer to the reverse than I anticipated. Nourishing Manaline staves off a lot of early aggression and gives the ramp decks something to do with excess mana and land drops that they wouldn’t otherwise use. Spiritblossom costing 3 and not offering a blocker until the next turn made it especially difficult to commit to a losing board-state.
Notably, I played a lot of do-nothing artifacts and enchantments, which I think is a better home for Nourishing Manaline than Spiritblossom. The latter likely comes into full bloom in an aggressive deck that is concerned about committing another creature threat onto a board against potential wrath.
This has a lot of “Mind Made Matter at home” energy, but a Phantasmal Image that you can populate leads to a lot of interesting play lines that I didn’t anticipate going into the draft.
Once the dominant strategy of A22 draft, the discard matters theme got picked apart in the playtest draft, leaving a lot of pieces without homes and some players in a state of confusion– why are these cards here? What do I do with them? This is good feedback and something I’ve got my eye on for additional changes.
It’s odd, but these cards appear to be locked in the file with no way to change them. As if they’re perfect in every way. So odd. [In all seriousness, Wish Egg played pretty well and had me wondering if the costing on Elf Bard and Orana is too steep, but that’ll demand some more testing.]
This was a fun first play test, where a lot of emergent gameplay occurred that I hadn’t theory crafted previously. Some of the core tenants did bear out– noncreature artifacts and enchantments were frequently important in games, and the players that could remove them were benefitted.
I saw some wild board states that were verging on board stall, but players were able to find methods to get through that stall and close the game.
I decked myself while spinning my wheels with many do-nothing permanents in a couple games because that’s who I am; this is impossible feedback to do anything with and I will not be changing any of the cards as a result of it.
Outside of the discard deck, I can still see homes for many of the cards in the environment, even if they didn’t see play in the first play test. There might be some room to adjust some costing, and I’m always curious about adding more fixing, but I don’t see any other places for wholesale renovation.
In the next session, I’m going to pay some attention to the mechanical fiddling of cards due to awkward rules text– if a card is making a player do something weird, then I’d like to change that.
Lastly, some folks told me that they had fun. I don’t know what that means, but I hope we can recreate in January!
If you have strong (or even any) opinions about the cards in this article or on the planesculptors page, head over to the Beacon of Creation discord and hit up the redbay-traegar channel.
Thanks for reading!