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Cube Science – It Works!

I’m a mere mortal. In fact, as a human I feel I’m not doing a very good job living up to what humans can live up to. Writing about a hobby isn’t exactly a straight path towards benefitting mankind as a whole. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t come anywhere near advancing our world to a better place.

But it sure is fun!

And fun is exactly what I want to share today. My actual line of work (the thing that keeps me busy and pays the bills) is working in the marketing department for a very large automobile insurance company. And a part of all good marketing is testing.

The Goggles! They do Nothing!

Grab a lab coat and chemical goggles because we’re about to dive into the world of applying real-world principles (well, at least pseudo-science) to fantasy world fun (Magic). The premise has been touched on by others I’m sure, and if you’ve seen it before, great! Otherwise, prepare for awesome.

A new principle I’m bringing into my cube is that of a Testing Lab for cards. A Testing Lab, or TL here on out, is an even distribution of cards to be included in cube play while testing for performance. Exactly how to set it up and what you are going to measure, if anything, is entirely up to you. As it is clear from my avid hunger for information I plan a slightly more rigorous approach.

Don’t be afraid: no real statistical analysis will be involved.

There are a number of factors that can impact a TL. The size of your cube, the type of cube, and the goal of the testing can all affect implementation. Let’s walk through what I have set up and I’ll highlight how it could be different given other contexts.

Size Matters (Surprise!)

My TL is going to be six cards: one for each color and a colorless slot. I am keeping a small size as I “ruthlessly cut” cards from cube, maintaining a smaller, more controlled environment and experience. As such I do not necessarily need to force the TL cards into packs; the odds are strongly stacked that they will be drafted as my cube total will still only be 369, nine more than the minimum for an eight person draft.

Larger cubes may benefit from setting aside TL cards to be forced into packs during a few drafts. This will ensure the cards are all experienced (being actively used is a potential test measurement, more on this later) and make getting feedback easier and more consistent. This idea has been in practice for some time but it’s important to point out here as TL is not a strict cube expansion.

Cards within the TL are experimental inclusions. These cards should be superfluous to your existing cube and serve only as comparative replacements assuming positive results. If needed, dropping the TL off shouldn’t harm the cube and should only slightly tweak the draft experience. This is also why I am using only six cards: if they perform well I would instead cut something in the cube and slot something else into the TL.

Break Out the Yard Stick

Which leads us to look at what, exactly, is performance. Here it’s a bit tricky. Performance scales depending upon your desire. For some, a single use resulting in a good story is sufficient. For others, like myself, if a card consistently makes the main deck or is brought in from the sideboard then it’s clearly doing its job well.

In that case, measuring the results for the TL becomes a Q&A process:

  • Did you include it in your deck? Why or why not?
  • Did you ever bring it in from the sideboard? Why or why not?
  • What do you think of the card? Did you want something else? Why or why not?

A combination of absolute and contextual information provides the measurements for performance. That is, they may have put it into the main deck but really wanted a similar but unavailable effect (negative), or simply not included it at any point (negative), or shifted strategy to a deck that the card was undesirable in (neutral). The ideal (positive) response would be one where it was used gainfully over existing cards in the cube, indicating that a weaker link within the cube needs to be identified.

And that’s what the precise end goal should be: qualitative improvement through iterative experimentation. While drafting a cube repeatedly will certainly shine a light on studs and duds, specifically looking for improvement through examination of cards that could be included, but aren’t, is a worthwhile adventure.

You Are “Go.” For Launch

What’s actually in my TL? Here are the six cards I intend to test when I make my Mirrodin Besieged update shortly:

  • Opal Champion – 3/3 first strike looks amazing for three; can the “sleeping” mechanic work?
  • Capsize – With new tools is blue now slowing aggro down enough to leverage properly?
  • Innocent Blood – Is this an edict variant that some decks will love or leave behind?
  • Kuldotha Ringleader – A 4/4 for five is fair, but is pumping aggro enough?
  • Viridian Emissary – While I really like him will the “aggro-ramp” guy work or walk?
  • Flayer Husk – A bonus body on equipment looks 100% legit. Does this pan out?

As you can see my TL isn’t “bad cards that I want to force in” but cards that are potentially solid enough on their own merits yet could falter or be inappropriate for the environment. I’m not looking to classify certain cards a “good” or “bad” by placing them in the TL but to instead openly examine just how good or bad they end up working.

Three of these cards are from Mirrodin Besieged and that isn’t an accident. Testing new cards that appear superficially solid yet potentially dubious is one way to mitigate including a card that doesn’t work or the loss of failing to include a great card upfront. Tumble Magnet sat out of my cube for too long as I had incorrectly judged its ability to be too situational. Tumble Magnet isn’t always the “best” but it serves a utility role well and feels good to destroy if the opportunity arises.

TL is another tool, in addition to an annotated spreadsheet and other tracking mechanisms, to see what works and what doesn’t. How you utilize it to its fullest for your cube is up to you.

Bonus: Leveraging Further

Take a quick glance back at my TL. Opal Champion is probably the most suspect card on the list. I like it for three reasons:

  • Vanilla 3/3’s for three mana are very solid in my cube; the addition of first strike would be extremely solid.
  • Control decks bouncing/removing creatures will appreciate getting a most likely superior creatures at the same time an opposing deck lays one.
  • It dodges most removal right up until an opponent actually plays a creatures, furthering their board commitment. It also provides a latent target for enchantment removal.

I’m not approaching the Knight as the next Errant Ephemeron or Crypt Rats, but instead as a potential utility use that reinforces existing archetypes and provides additional avenues for consideration. The “sleeping” enchantments do have some prohibitive drawbacks:

  • They rely on an opponent “cooperating” by playing a spell of the appropriate type.
  • They do little to battle back from behind as an opponent in command position will have little need to “wake up” the enchantment.
  • Even upon “waking up” they often do not immediately impact the board as the opponent is aware of the enchantment and is mitigating accordingly.

The reason I’m drawn to Opal Knight is because the majority of my cube is creatures. Getting a 3/3 first strike in against any deck should work well. Most decks will be casting creatures consistently, especially if you use removal and trade aggressively to slow the game down and force “cooperation” from across the table. Control decks that resist aggro and aggro decks that pack plenty of removal will essentially force their hand and make a creature appear.

Seeing if this practice can be rewarded, and if it can then seeing if the Opal enchantment fit the bill, is certainly enticing. A three mana 3/3 with first strike can stand on its own merit; does this 3/3 with first strike work?

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  1. Jesse
    February 8, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    Cards I think should be in a TL for this cube: Dream Stalker, Knight of Cliffhaven, Totem-Guide Hartebeest. I think we’ve learned from Kor Skyfisher that bouncing a permanent is almost always upside. “Strictly Better” than Giant Tortoise? I think so. Knight and Totem-Guide probably need to be tested, but I think you should seriously consider Dream Stalker. (This post may or may not have to do with recently acquiring foil copies of these 3 cards).

    🙂

  2. glocks4interns
    February 9, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    Like the post. I often make sure that brand new cards are included in the draft when first playing with them. I should be more vigilant about this and try to get them inserted into multiple drafts as it really helps.

    @Jesse
    I can totally get behind testing Totem Guide as he was pretty nice in Rise limited. The other two I’m less inclined to like.

    First of all what experience have you had that bouncing a permanent is almost always an up side? I usually bounce a land with Skyfisher which is by no means an upside.

    Secondly Sky Fisher is an aggressive card. This means it will most often be played in a deck with plenty of cheap creatures and a low mana curve. Dream Stalker is the opposite. It fits into control decks without cheap creatures and with a high curve. I don’t see the extra point of toughness as close to worth it.

    Knight of Cliffhaven I don’t find too exciting.

  3. February 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Testing Zone/Labs are awesome. /thumbs up

    I’m hesitant about Opal Guardian, but that should be public knowledge, since I love voicing my hate of cards that gives your opponent choices. Tell us how it stacks up. xD

    @Jesse

    I don’t see how Dream Stalker is all that great, but the two white cards definitely should be tested. First the Hartebeest, then Cliffhaven. Both are solid dudes. xD

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