Sunday, May 27, 2018

Art of Archfrenemies: Basic Lands


With all the careful decisions that go into creating a Cube in order to craft a certain experience, there are cards that aren't listed that your players are also going to encounter: Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest. Due to the nature of Cubes, most Cubes are pre-sleeved, which requires pre-sleeving and providing the basic lands that would used for your players' eventual draft decks. Why not also put some thought into which lands your players are going to use?

Land's Beginning

If you don't know what Archfrenemies is, visit the Archfrenemies page for more info.

For Archfrenemies, I didn't want to just throw in the full-art Unstable lands, as beautiful as they are. Cubes can be products of intense labors of love, which is surely a fitting place to use some of the most precious of selections of basic lands. However, as my approach to Archfrenemies is to maximize its themes, this meant looking toward basic lands across the board.

Because Archfrenemies features enemy color pairings, I wanted that to show up in the art. Show me Plains with lots of black. Give me Islands with red hues. I want to see Swamps going green. And so on.

On another hand, I also wanted to, if possible, have basic land art with sneaky references to the mechanical themes of Archfrenemies. What land screams "Archenemy?" And what evokes any of extort, surge, morbid, battalion, or graft?

Lastly, because each color has two different enemy colors to form two different enemy color pairings, I had to make a choice. Do I choose a Forest with blue colors or an Island with blue colors? I decided to do both. This meant picking two pieces of art for each basic land and including multiple copies of lands for each of these arts. This way, players that like doing so can at least have a bit of aesthetics choice - and we can all enjoy twice as much art!

Plains

Plains by Florian de Gesincourt
This Plains shows a lot of darkness, especially with the contrasting lighting of the ground in the foreground. Since extort is the white-black mechanic, it benefits archenemies the most - so fitting that this Plains depicts a structure that could be interpreted to be a looming archenemy fortress.

Plains by Mark Poole
The sun is setting on this Plains, which gives that red coloring that evokes the Boros theme present in Archfrenemies. Dusk means darkness drawing near for the team-based battalion players, symbolism of what little time left our heroes have before one or both of the two Thanoses fulfill a grim destiny.

Island


Island by Lucas Graciano

Red water (read: blood) from Hour of Devastation is one way to ensure there are red hues present in an Island. Also, things aren't looking good for this Island of what might be a blue-red player, who might be using surge, a mechanic that benefits most when played as part of a team. Mwahahaha.

An important note about using basic land art from the Amonkhet block: as Archfrenemies doesn't have anything to do with Nicol Bolas, and given that Archenemy: Nicol Bolas is an existing product, I wanted to be sure to veer away from any imagery that gives players any sense that there's Nicol present in this format. Thus, basic land art with strong depiction of Bolas horns need not apply.

Island by Kev Walker
One thing I scanned for while looking through basic land art was how sharp were the hues of the enemy pairing color I could find. This Island was chosen because it was one of the best ones to show off "GREEN" in the art. That is all.

NOTE: Mark Poole's green-covered Alpha Island is suredly very green. However, since I wanted to ensure all my basic lands have the modern card frame and are black-bordered, this meant there were no eligible printings using that art. Besides, Mark Poole art already shows up in TWO other slots for basic land art!

Swamp


Swamp by Jung Park
For the green-hinted Swamp, I wanted to find one with both a cemetery to give that wink toward morbid. While some locales depicted in Swamps can be argued to be cemeteries without headstones present in it, these real-world-relatable grave monuments really do great work at communicating visually, "Hey, there's death here." Unfortunately, this is the greenest Swamp I could find meeting this need, of which the green is difficult to see, especially at card size.

Swamp by Jonas De Ro
Thanks, Dominaria! While the Plains I chose gives that sense of "Hey, this might be where the bad guy is," this Swamp definitely communicates, "OKAY, THIS IS DEFINITELY WHERE THE BAD GUY LIVES." Also, the coloring of that light is white, for the most part!

Mountain


Mountain by Karl Kopinski

This is the white-hinted Mountain. Take a close look at the dark-colored mountainous terrain. You'll notice there are people standing on it. How many people? Three. And how many are on a team in Archfrenemies and is the required number for triggering battalion? That's right - three. This is the perfect Archfrenemies Mountain.

BONUS: This is also the sole Mountain used for the Tuktuk the Explorer Commander deck since there was a requirement to only include cards with art depicting a torch. ...one of these three people is holding up an arm with an orange glow emanating from it. Torch!

Mountain by Titus Lunter
(Sorry for the low-res pic! Hard to find high-res images of sets that haven't been released, yet.)

So, I had a different Mountain in mind for the red-blue-ish one. Until Battlebond released the image of its Mountain. This was perfect for two reason: 

1) It's very clearly Battlebond, a set that can be identified with the term "teammate," which is what's going on with Archfrenemies with the surge mechanic mentioning "teammate."

2) That oozing lava coming out of these mountainous territory can be said to be surging out of them. Eh? Yeah? 'kay, that's all.

With Battlebond releasing June 8th and Card Kingdom's super-fast shipping - I should be able to get my updated Mountains in time before bringing the Archfrenemies Cube to GP Vegas!

Forest

Forest by Mark Poole
A second Mark Poole art used in the basic lands! For this one, the blue sky means "the sky's the limit" in terms of how far you can grow/reach - for graft! And that sky is quite blue.


Forest by James Paick
Boy, for a Forest, there's very little green going on in this art.

I knew that spooky/gloomy Forests from either of the Innistrad blocks was going to be the likely choice. Some of them had glimmers of life in the form of a stream or hopefully-colored leaves.

Nah, we needed darkness and none of that bright, happy stuff. Like, those are branches without leaves, and who knows how long of a fall it is if you trip over those logs into the misty area?

Ten out of Ten, Basically

And that's it for basic land art! Thanks for reading my thoughts on why I picked the ones I did. But maybe you have some better suggestions for basic lands! Give me a tweet (@bradleyrose) if so.

Below are all of the cards, when viewed together, in card form:








Thursday, May 17, 2018

Archfrenemies Design: Cube Creation



The Archfrenemies Cube is my first completed Cube. Well, kinda - I wrote about a Halloween Cube over five years ago and managed to assemble in-person 360 cards. But there wasn't as much time and thought put into it like I have with the Archfrenemies Cube. This post are those thoughts put into it. Well, most of them, anyway.

For easy reference, here's the Archfrenemies Cube list.

And here's the visual spoiler.

If you don't know what the Archfrenemies format is all about, read about it in this Card Kingdom blog post.

All set? Let's roll.

Mechanical Slot Machines


So, I have the core mechanical themes of: extort, surge, morbid, battalion, graft. To support this, I NEEDED to have commons and uncommons. With a traditional pack structure, I also needed a card pool mirroring that of a similar supplemental set: Conspiracy: Take the Crown. This means the following card slots:

  • 80 commons
  • 60 uncommons
  • 45 rares
  • 10 mythics
NOTE: nonbasic lands are separated from the above card pool due to a dedicated nonbasic land slot. Read more about this decision as well as the rarity composition of an Archfrenemies pack in this Goblin Artisans post.


But how many card slots for each mechanic at each rarity?

I looked to more recent sets that had five factions: Khans of Tarkir block and Return to Ravnica block. This came out to be about four or five cards at common per factionized mechanic. Since I was going to use a sprinkle of gold cards that had the mechanics I wanted to support, I modeled off of the more-gold-heavy Return to Ravnica block.

Number of card slots breakdown, by rarity:

  • 4 to 5 commons
  • 2 to 3 uncommons
  • 2 to 3 rares
  • 0-1 mythics
From here, I had to make decisions, as there were more cards than slots available. Here they are:


Kingpin's Pet, for an extort player, is more valuable for its ability to evade and block evasive creatures. Plus, Tithe Drinker's lifelink is a non-bo with some other cards that get granted combat-relevant abilities based off life gain. With all the life gain effects in the Cube, I devalued lifelink.


Crypt Ghast cares about tapping Swamps for mana, encouraging you to maximize this by going monoblack. However, this Cube set is really fit for two-or-three color decks, not one-or-two color decks. Pontiff it is. Also, what's with rare black extorting creatures being shady, cloaked peeps?


I decided to stick with two blue and two red surge cards at common. However, I just realized while writing this that morbid has three green commons with morbid in the Cube, which is inconsistent with the decision to remove Containment Membrane. Ah, an oversight. I might swap this back in, to mirror morbid. For now, it's out.


I only wanted one red rare surge card. Fall of the Titans is so gosh darn perfect for the flavor of the set as this depicts taking down two large foes ...there are two archenemies. If you manage, as a team center, to cast this and kill two archenemies at once ...LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.


Because there are no gold surge cards, this allowed including the mythic surge card without oversaturating the rare slots. In Crush of Tentacles goes. 

Since Tyrant of Valakut was turned down, I still wanted the representative dragon of the Cube. Territorial Hellkite is an excellent choice since this supports battalion strategies powerfully. Battalion cares about attacking period, and the lower the mana cost, the better. A randomized attack on large stats is just fine.







Of the three black common morbid cards, one had to go. Gruesome Discovery is such a bad rate in a multiplayer game to cast. At least Tragic Slip is instant speed and is creature removal. I also never like targeted discard in multiplayer, anyway, for political reasons. For a cooler discard effect, in its place, Syphon Mind. This favors archenemies as members of a team would be draining their teammates' cards when casting this.


Choosing these two green morbid cards is synergistic with graft. One is a basic execution of morbid creature while the other acts as the "Giant Growth" of the set.



These other two creatures weren't chosen, due to their trample and reach abilities being tacked onto the +1/+1 counters theme - stepping on the toes of graft too much at green common.


See, the "Spider with reach" slot is "reached" already with Aquastrand Spider (even if on a smaller body, but this can help grant large bodies reach). Now, let's circle back to morbid cards before continuing...


Given that there is no gold common morbid card and that there is no rare green morbid card, I decided it was fine to give green one more morbid card, especially since there was already some +1/+1 counters theme overlap with graft. Between Woodland Sleuth and Caravan Vigil, I had more space to explore in other cards for the same effect Caravan Vigil provides. Out it goes.


So, I put in Fertilid as a ramp option. This does THREE things: triggers morbid when it's used up, interacts with graft, and allows you to target your teammates for ramping!



Sorry, Brimstone Volley. I wanted to REALLY hammer home that some mechanics are tied to certain two-color pairings. This card, while cool, violates this rule.


As you can see, I included the common Wakedancer. This allowed me to have two black common morbid cards but also that "stronger" effects get diluted in multiplayer games, so it's better to either move down effects to common for those draft environments or bump up the number of more-rare effects that appear in your card pool. Thus, Morkrut Banshee is in!


Rounding out the rest of the uncommon slots are Predator's Howl and Deathreap Ritual. Thank goodness for Conspiracy making a gold uncommon morbid card - there wouldn't have been an option otherwise.


These two green uncommon options weren't as ideal since I was starting to get some heavier-costed uncommon creature cards on the graft and myriad side. I went with Predator's Howl, the cheapest option. Which, incidentally, can help you chain your morbid deaths.


Y'see what I mean? Way too top-heavy to include the Wurm, at the very least. But these two were the only uncommon options for green myriad and green graft, respectively. That's because...


Since I wanted a one rare graft card for each of blue and green, and because there would be no other graft option at rare if I didn't pick Cytoplast Root-Kin at rare, that eliminated it as an option for uncommon, leaving the Basilisk as the choice for green uncommon graft.


With green having no morbid green or gold cards, the mythic slot is a welcome fill-in for morbid - with anything. As much as I like mixing new and old cards of the same mechanic, Skirsdag High Priest was chosen over Malicious Affliction because...


There's already a black rare spell that does targeted removal of two creatures at once! Sorry, Malicious Affliction, but there is no choice in removing Curtain's Call if I want to include the undaunted cycle.


Sporeback Troll was ousted due to Woodland Sleuth taking the four-drop creature slot. Simic Initiate also wasn't going to cut it as the one-drop green common slot was already taken by another card...


And that card was the non-negotiable inclusion of Squirrel Dealer. Actually, I had long debated whether to include this due to the gray area of this being a personal opinion question but also something that didn't require anything like physical dexterity or racing against time - which are complete no-no's for the "outside assistance" cards in this Cube.



In the end, I decided to have a ruling for this Cube that treats Squirrel Dealer's question as, "May I have a 1/1 green Squirrel creature token?" so that you're not having to choose between gameplay and telling the truth about your love of Squirrel creature tokens.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of Squirrel Dealer means no more other Squirrel cards can be included in the set - and, believe me, I'm with you on the love of Squirrels. But I don't want Squirrels to be mistaken for some kind of subtheme in this Cube. So, one Squirrel card only! This means no Squirrel Nest, which Conspiracy had, which is great for triggering morbid and for gosh-darn cuteness.


Three white common battalion cards. I chose these two. Which means...


Eliminating this Hound from this Cube. The lifelink is not as appealing in an environment with extort and other cards that trigger off of lifegain, similar to why Tithe Drinker wasn't included. It's also another white common two-drop battalion creature, competing with the Daring Skyjek. But don't you worry, dog lovers...


One measure of a Cube may be whether there are doggos. Thankfully, Archfrenemies has a couple. They may not be Milk Dud Best Dog, but they're still good bois.

Jackal Familiar, in particular, is pretty great on turn one if one of your teammates also has a turn one creature to help this pupper swing sideways on turn two.


Oh my goodness I wanted SO BAD to include Garbage Elemental, bringing a fresh newcomer to the battalion family in a new environment. Unfortunately, a couple reasons favored choosing Firefist Striker: 1) Last strike would be this random "silver-bordered evergreen" keyword. Which isn't too bad considering goad showing up in this Cube as an evergreen multiplayer keyword. But it's just another layer of complexity. 2) There's another five-drop uncommon red creature that could NOT be removed...


Warchief Giant. Gotta have it for the myriad. Thankfully, battalion still has a high-cost red creature in disguise: this Phoenix. Even though it needs YOU to be attacking with three creatures to bring it back from the dead, it's still reads neatly as "hey, I'm on battalion's side." Besides, a flying haste creature on turn four is great, especially if you couldn't have drafted the red rare Dragon to fill this role in your battalion deck.


Choosing between the two was tricky for the gold rare slot, but I decided that there might be situations where you're discouraged from attacking with Firemane Avenger, even if you COULD deal 3 damage to an opposing Herald of the Host's 4 toughness, making the opponent choose whether to trade with your Firemane Avenger.

Instead, I prefer to have a creature that can (most of the time) fearlessly attack and be one less creature of yours to worry about when trying to trigger battalion for your other creatures.


As much as I would love to have included Llanowar Reborn, doing so meant I would have had to find suitable monocolor uncommon nonbasic lands to fill out a cycle to keep color balance. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything that was satisfactory.

The undaunted and myriad cycles all were auto-includes with no decision points. Goad, however, did have choice:


As much as I love Grenzo as a character, and even though he's aggressively costed and could help with casting more spells for surge with the impulsive draw choice, the card wasn't as good of a choice as Disrupt Decorum. I only had room for one red rare goad card, and Disrupt Decorum does such a great job at favoring the archenemy in order to have a handle on all those pesky teammates ganging up on them.

This wraps up covering the mechanics. One note about this Cube: I didn't want any keywords to appear on any included card that wasn't evergreen (goad is considered evergreen for this Cube) or one of the other seven chosen mechanics. Strict rule, no matter how cool a card would otherwise be as an inclusion.

A Group of Remarkable People





A small detour here, I wanted to find all the "teammates matter" cards that weren't surge. A small handful, I wanted to make sure to include each applicable one, as there wasn't going to often come an opportunity where they'd matter for Cube considerations. And this is where there would be one of the most restriction in terms of possible similar effects on other considered cards that didn't care about teammates.


I really wanted this card to be in the Cube as this has brought many positive memories. However, with this format's repurposing of "outside the game," this meant creating some more rules baggage of how to handle this card. It also meant breaking open the established enemy color pairing themes to include all ten color pairs. Even though I'm tickled at the thought of stealing a player (a whole archenemy, even) to join your side (and perhaps WAY too strong - Better Than One, more like Two-for-One, amirite?), it's just not worth it to include this in the Cube.

Rareware


After finding "teammates matter" cards, I then decided on the planeswalkers, which I covered in my post on the themes of Archfrenemies. Kaya, Ral, Garruk, Huatli, and Kiora all take up five of the ten mythic slots. (And then their representative cards fill in other, miscellaneous slots.)





This meant the other five slots I wanted to be monocolor cards. Black and blue already had morbid and surge cards take up those slots, leaving white, red, and green.


Serra Avatar rewards your extortion. ...weird, I know. And Hydra Omivore is at its monstrous best with a possible four opponents for a total of 32 potential damage, unassisted! *sweats* Maybe it's good I didn't include Fireshrieker in the set?


I know. There's no red board sweeper at rare And Star of Extinction was a pretty solid choice for mythic. Instead, for "sweepers," there's just Disrupt Decorum. Which COULD end up killing some creatures, but there's likely to be some scary stuff left. However, I hope this is offset by In Garruk's Wake, Sublime Exhalation, Gaze of Granite, and Oblivion Stone.

I, instead, chose to have Glorious End included to highlight an interesting two interesting things about being a part of a team.

You share turns with the whole team, so when you gain or lose turns or have your turn ended, EVERYONE on the team experiences that. Glorious End allows for this interaction to surface. Secondly, when a member of a team loses the game, only that player loses the game. The whole team doesn't lose. This means a member of a team, if needed can sacrifice themselves to cast this spell for the sake of the team in order to get an advantage.

It's not often you get to have a team environment to enable this interaction. I'm happy to take advantage of the opportunity.


Oh, were you wondering about the "11th" mythic? If you look closely at this iron giant in the Cube Tutor list, I specifically chose the rare version of Darksteel Colossus. This is because I wanted a couple of things: 1) A strong and closer-to-reliable way to kill off long games; 2) Something to aspire to achieving when you're drafting ramp cards.

Next, let's look at the rest of the rares. I started filling out the slots by looking at interesting cycles.


Of course the Commander products ended up having the most number of interesting cards to include for this format. Especially their rare cycles of new keywords like tempting offer and join forces.

Join forces was too swingy, I imagined, for my tastes. I didn't like that no matter how many Soldier tokens an archenemy might get with Alliance of Arms, there was too many other players to gang up with creatures. Also, holy hell, with five players' worth of range at a time for Mana-Charged Dragon, there could be major gang-up with everyone fueling this dragon's breath, killing off players much earlier than others. Out.

The tempting offer cycle is potentially a dud in the hands of an archenemy if everyone agrees to not given the archenemy more benefit. OR, if someone DOES start the agreeing train, potentially could give an archenemy too much more of an advantage that the other players would soon realize was fatal. I chickened out of this cycle.


I ended up going with the Offering cycle, to join the myriad and dauntless cycles of cards from Commander products. I like that no matter if you're an archenemy or a teammate, there's not swingy impact.


Another rare cycle I considered was the epic cycle. With archenemies having schemes to help them do more than just doing this spell's one effect for the rest of the game and members of a team having their other teammates to do other spellslinging, I thought this would be really cool to include!

Unfortunately, I ran out of rare slots. With mechanics and the undaunted and Offering cycles, there were only three open slots for one-off rares for each color - some colors more squeezed for space than others. Perhaps when expanding the Archfrenemies Cube, at least in the rare slots, I'll include this cycle.


With only two white rare slots left, I realized two things: 1) I still don't have a rare/mythic Angel in the Cube (I wanted to check off that box, because sets are more than just mechanics and such); 2) white, for being the creature color; only had, at this point, Frontline Medic and Benevolent Offering.

I fixed the Angel issue with a great card that both rewards battalion strategies as well as helps teammates.

Fun fact: Victory's Herald appeared in Mirrodin Besieged, which had the battle cry mechanic - a mechanic that was once in the cube to complement the battalion mechanic. Eventually cut as I decided on paring down on the number of non-evergreen mechanics.

From here, I wanted to find the most fun white rare multiplayer creature card - and decided this Stalking Leonin was the ticket.


Seeing that blue only had Cytoplast Manipulator for creatures, I wanted to give a large flier. Sphinx of Magosi was a great choice given that drawing cards and getting +1/+1 counters helped enable both surge and graft strategies but also pushes the game toward an end if the this Sphinx connects with opponents.


Order of Succession is awesome in that it allows you to pass along creatures to your teammates. Keep in mind that the "range of influence" limits the players involved. If a team center casts this, this does mean that an archenemy would be stealing from another archenemy - a fun, rare interaction amongst players normally outside of each others' games.

Manifold Insights is another one of those "number of opponents matter" cards. But this card, in particular, especially when cast as an archenemy, might cause lots of conversation to happen as players deliberate what to collectively choose to give to the caster.


Giving black an interesting different between teammates and archenemies, members of a team can only choose two options, at most.


I wanted to give black a good X spell, especially with the presence of Cloudpost and the teammate spell that generates a bunch of mana. For a while, Exsanguinate was in the Cube, making me sweat. Then Torment of Hailfire became a choice that seemed to be not as bad, both in terms of rarity and giving the opponents choices on what to lose, even if the life loss is more per X.


Red's last remaining rare slot is filled by Witch Hunt, which shares a trait with the included uncommon Humble Defector in that these cards are able to potentially get passed all around the table. The potential of that is fun and also brings players closer together as someone's card from across the table eventually impacts you.

Lastly, Witch Hunt provides an answer card to all that extort going on and also helps push games toward ending.


Green needed a way to do a creature board wipe given the multiplayer environment, but in a green way. Ezuri's Predation providing Beasts to beat up creatures is a great way to do so, as it ensures there's still more morbid triggers to happen in the future. It also plays into the "number of opponents matter" space.

Mitotic Slime is also a superstar for morbid triggers.


I also wanted a way to specifically wipe artifacts and enchantments. But, the thing with multiplayer games and only doing one game is that non-creature removal tends to be more sideboard-able. Even with a board wipe like Wave of Vitriol, there's not much positive boon it creates for you in the end.

Bane of Progress at least does something. Answering threats but also presenting one for yourself.


The last remaining green rare slot touches the same space as an included black uncommon: allowing players to work together on the same card. There may also be opportunity for politics with this card.


With white, black, red, and green providing ways to kill creatures, some moreso than others; and blue having two mass bounce spells between rare and mythic; I wanted to ensure a spell exists for handling all kinds of permanents.

Pernicious Deed does something I want to avoid with Archfrenemies' board wipes - allow for players to snipe specific threats/defenses, especially when teammates might be able to plan in advance and hold back their permanents of a specific mana cost. I want the wipes to hurt teammates to cast and reward archenemies, who might need wipes the most for answering threats.

Gaze of Granite in Golgari colors is a great choice for doing this despite offering some degree of control. What you can't do is specifically snipe a certain mana cost. You must get rid of everything at the threshold you're shooting for, which would probably be higher, more often than not.

And just in case the rares opened aren't yielding enough board wipes, I threw in Oblivion Stone to help in this area. It can also be a great political and teammate-pressureful card.


I discovered something while building this Cube and having an aggressive battalion strategy: Vehicles rock for helping alleviate that inevitable point where the aggression strategy is snuffed out and outclassed by the slower-moving players. Vehicles allow you to put your smaller, early aggressive creatures to use into better creature bodies and keep up your momentum.

While Fleetwheel Cruiser seems like it'd rock better than Smuggler's Copter, the uncommon Vehicle slot already has trample chosen, and I wanted diversity amongst the Vehicles. Smuggler's Copter was a solid second choice.


 Express-style! The uncommon Vehicle choice is my favorite as it overlaps with graft and battalion strategies. Aradara Express, at common, gives the most bang for your buck. I wanted a Vehicle that can allow you to just absolutely wreck and smash through, to break up those board stalls.

Land-o Card-rissian




So, the rare land cycle. I had a goal with this Cube in that I wanted to help battalion players out as much as possible with my card choices, because I know aggressive strategies and multiplayer don't mix as well. As Alexis Janson discovered in her Magic: Remastered article on dual lands, the fast land cycle are perfect for rewarding faster players moreso than the slower ones.

Exotic Orchard inclusion ups the percentage of applicable mana fixing without taking up five more slots. It also rewards archenemies the most - which is perfect since archenemies might find themselves dipping into more colors moreso than others if they're drawn to the myriad (heh) of available archenemy-friendly cards across all five colors.


I wanted to give morbid players a sacrifice outlet and not have to rely upon getting some removal or combat happening to trigger morbid. At the same time, the benefit of gaining a life also helps to trigger cards that care about life gain.

In the same vein, the common dual land cycle giving that little nudge of gaining an extra life is perfect for enabling such aforementioned strategies.


Speaking of lands gaining you life... there's Glimmerpost, of the Locus type, which pertains to caring about number of Locus on the battlefield. With the setup of having commons appear in multiples along with having five players' worth of lands to potentially have Locus available, this was a prime environment to enter these lands into the mix.

These two cards are also largely why I ruled that players should reveal their role cards during deckbuilding, so that players on the same team can coordinate with one another and see if it's worth including whatever Locus cards they've drafted.


And just in case players might have trouble getting enough Locus on the battlefield, or to just excite them with the prospect, Thespian's Stage is included to help enable that draft strategy. Otherwise, it can help get you a copy of a Temple of the False God or something.


And Temple of the False God replace Spawning Bed at uncommon for mana boosting. Even though sacrificing Scions for morbid would have been sweet, the sacrifice of the land provided yet one less target for Thespian's Stage. ...and Kiora appearing on a card was a sweet reason, too.


But with all these sweet lands, I wanted a way for players to blow them up. (Besides red's Volcanic Offering at rare, Wild Swing at uncommon, and Seismic Shift at common.) Also, there was this quirky opportunity with Field of Ruin: when you destroy an opponent's land, players beside you and the opponent also get to get lands. So, those players ramp. This can be neat when played within a team.

Speaking of answer cards - Rogue's Passage is great at providing a way to break through board stalls. It even targets creatures, so you can help out your teammates (or politicize with the enemy).


 I considered other unblockable options as well, but they were either too potentially un-interact-able, or potentially too scary to use


To round out the lands, Haunted Fengraf provides a common land that doesn't deal with resources (life, mana). And Golgari Rot Farm and cycle are the uncommon mana fixing of choice - of which there aren't a lot of great options to choose from for dual lands. "Two lands in one" is great for the slower decks as well. And more enticing targets for land destruction. ;)

A Lot in Common


Now, the rest of the Cube discussion for uncommons and commons will only focus on certain interesting decision points. Much of the Cube at lower rarities was ensuring certain effects in the mechanical color pie showed up when they should.



So, with the decision to isolate nonbasic lands into its own dedicated slot in the pack, this meant the colorless parts of the Cube were almost-certainly only artifacts (barring odd stuff like Scion of Ugin). And because I wanted artifacts at each common, uncommon, and rare; and because I liked dealing in five's at each rarity's card pool; I was going to have five artifacts per rarity. That's a lot of artifacts!

And because I wanted to be sure battalion (and other creatures) can have some sweet Equipment around to help them break through board stalls, I was delighted that Carry Away might thrive in this environment. Unfortunately for Carry Away, I discovered Vehicles. There are now only one Equipment at each rarity (just like Vehicles).

However, with this division between Vehicles and Equipment, there were still lots of enticing artifacts around. This still meant having an artifact-stealing card around to nab one would be a sweet include. Thus, the Master Thief.


As if Equipment didn't already help battalion charge forth, Ensouled Scimitar even can provide itself as an extra creature to help trigger battalion.

Strider Harness is my valuing haste in this environment due to theorizing that players might be able to sneak through some surprise attacks, avoiding for at least one turn creatures being left up as blockers. Though, of course, folks may get scared of hasty creatures and then leave up blockers in anticipation, defeating this purpose. We'll see how it plays out with playtesting.




I valued the extra power and toughness with Strider Harness over the likes of hexproof and shroud of those famous haste shoes. This is so that battalion can more likely attack, if their stats are large enough to encourage swinging in the first place.


It was important to me that battalion also had ways to surprise players with a battalion trigger. Flurry of Horns enables this with haste tokens while casting Midnight Haunting during someone elses's turn can provide the same effect. This is beside the instant-speed-but-rarely-seen Benevolent Offering.


I see Dismiss used often in multiplayer products. I didn't want to follow those footsteps. So, I still included a cantrip counterspell, but sliced it up to just creature counterspell.


And I like balancing out my Essence Scatters with Negates. Thus, Unwind complements Exclude. It may be an multiplayer environment, but it's also one with teammates and surge. With this wording, you not only can untap your own lands to allow you to perhaps cast a surge spell, but you also could untap opponents' lands ... a super teammate combo!

I used to have Rewind for this reason until the stars aligned and Dominaria released Unwind.


With two common slots taken up by counterspells, I moved the rest of the countering to uncommon. Second Guess is one of my favorite cards in the set in that it's almost as if it were meant to appear in the same set as surge.

With all these soft counterspells, I needed at least one hard counterspell. But I also wanted it uncommon. There were many possible boons, like Discombobulate. But Disappearing Act provides a means to bounce your whittled-down graft permanents, which was appealing to me.




These are the long-spoken-of cards that trigger off of lifegains, creating some kind of sub identity. As you can see, life gained from lifelink doesn't quite work for these folks.

Oathsworn Vampire is neat in that it allows you to extort when you cast it but also is enabled by extort. Combine with a sacrifice outlet for shenanigans.


Speaking of shenanigans, similar in bouncing-to-hand ability as Oathsworn Vampire, Conviction allows you to bounce it back to your hand, ready to be extorted again.

Squadron Hawk may take advantage of the Cube having duplicates of commons, but it also is a great way to fill your hand with spells ripe for extorting with.



I wanted a way for creatures to trigger battalion but safely at the early stages and/or lower rarities. Since this isn't Gatecrash Masters, Armored Transport is not used. Instead, the cheaper (and more easily foiled ...hah, foiled) Glittering Lynx is used.


Just like with Glittering Lynx's replacement of Armored Transport when serving a mechanic's needs, Ornithopter is standing in for Bone Saw. Bone Saw was a clever way of triggering surge in Oath of the Gatewatch. In this Cube, Ornithoper is a clever way of trigger surge but also a tricky way of ensuring you get your battalion triggers online asap.







Just like how the Locus lands check for what's available on the battlefield, these spells increase with more copies amongst everyone's graveyards. Sometimes for teammates to coordinate on during deck-building. Aether Burst was part of a cycle, and the red version, Flame Burst, is functionally identical to Kindle.

However, Kindle was the pick here since I didn't want a drafter seeing Aether Burst and Flame Burst and start to think there's a pattern and all the Bursts are in the Cube.



As for the rest of the burn, gotta get creative when dealing with a multiplayer environment. In Cinder Storm's case, because games go longer, toughness get larger. This spell ensures you can still burninate them. And if the best tactic once you reach seven mana isn't to deal direct damage to a creature - you can still throw the damage to someone's face.

With extort putting a damper on red's damaging capabilities, Punishing Fire comes out to play to enjoy multiple casts. Or, otherwise, the opponent getting shy about extorting. Either is a win.


And sometimes the red removal answer is to just include a straight-up destruction spell. This nonenchantment vindicate gets a lot better with more opponents to choose from, giving you a higher chance of having a good trade.


Mirrodin Besieged was great for caring about attackers coming from any player and not just your own. This spell helps provide team support for pushing through the defenses.


I know that I've talked about how multiplayer games means single games means normally-sideboard-able cards like artifact destruction don't end up getting played unless you address them specifically. In this case, my Cube is an environment where there's so many artifacts. The fact that this cantrips means this is something to consider, especially if you're a surge deck.




These two cards provide lifegain if you just need to do so but don't have extra mana or extort available to trigger those black cards with abilities enabled only when you've gained life in a turn.

Both mirror each other in that Syphon Soul is best when cast as an archenemy while Healing Hands is able to be used on a teammate that needs it.



Speaking of gaining life, green's Stream of Life takes care of that need for green to have a lifegain spell but also provides yet another outlet for abundance of mana (like with fellow X-cost spells Torment of Hailfire and Fall of the Titans). Most importantly, the "target player" allows for what may be an emergency lifegain for a fellow teammate.


Mana ramp is more neat when you can use it to boost your teammates!


Another of my favorite cards in the Cube, this card is useful both for battalion players AND players being on the receiving end of an attack WITHOUT discouraging a battalion player from attacking. You get hurt less, they get their triggers.


A one-size-fits-all common creature. Any color, any stats. Helpful, no matter what or role is or the current state of the game.


An unabashedly teammates-inclined card, its colorless-ness is helpful so that anyone on a team, no matter what colors you're in, can pick this up.



A beautiful confluence of morbid and graft.


If you DO end up going with a Locus strategy, this spell will help you get those lands sooner rather than later.


Works great for both teammates and opponents! Either untap a vicious creature of your teammate's; or untap a creature to send to their death of an opponent's.





Last, but not least - vanilla creatures. Important for any real set's consideration, they provide a baseline for creature-ness in your set. And they help to decrease overall complexity in the game. These particular choices were made for one reason or another. I wanted Hexplate Golem to be a goal for anyone with ramp. Panther Warriors were to ensure they could hit through most creatures (except that Golem, lol). Blue and black tend to be defensive whatever your role, so a Crab and Zombie Minotaur. Red and white both have more power than toughness to augment battalion strategies.

Solved Cube


...and that's it. Whew. The Archfrenemies Cube selections may change as each play session occurs, where real playtest data is gathered. And, of course, it may be updated over time as each set is released. Battlebond, in particular, may prove to have some potential interesting additions given its team-oriented environment.

There's a lot here, so thanks for clicking through to this page, or skimming it, or... reading the entire thing? *faints*

Lemme know what you think and maybe what card choices might've been better! Catch me on Twitter (@bradleyrose)!

Catch you next time. :)