The most broken cards in history are coming to Magic Online with the new Magic Online Cube: Holiday 2012!
If you're new to Cube, here's the general idea: A Cube is a selection of a few hundred Magic cards. Typically, the cards in the Cube have a theme of being powerful Constructed cards from across the history of Magic. You divide those cards into fifteen-card "booster packs" and draft them as you would a regular set. However, unlike a regular set, there is only one of each card; you'll never have multiples of anything.
The Magic community is totally awesome. The best parts of my day are reading forums where people talk about their Magic experiences and learning what sorts of games they want, what they're enjoying, and what they want R&D to do more of.
In particular, there are a bunch of forum discussions dedicated to the Magic Online Cube. There are two common threads throughout those discussion: (a) why isn't there more mana fixing in the Cube and (b) jeez, where is the Power Nine?
Briefly, there's not a ton of mana fixing because too much mana fixing tends to make every deck at the table the same sort of three-color midrange deck that just wants to gain raw resource advantages via long, boring attrition fights. And there wasn't power before because we didn't think the time was right to bring the Power Nine to Magic Online.
Even though the ability to collect the Power Nine in Magic Online isn't currently available, we thought it would be nice to let players experience the most powerful cards in Magic in the context of... the most powerful cards in Magic.
The addition of the Power Nine caused the power level of the entire Cube to shift upwards dramatically. In one playtest, I was looking to draw a land on turn one so I'd be able to play Griselbrand on turn one. I missed, so I could only use Black Lotus to power out Liliana of the Veil on the first turn and set up an Animate Dead for Griselbrand on the second.
So what is the real impact of adding power to the Cube?
Obviously, Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall are going to kick things up a notch, but it's not very fun to take an unpowered Cube, add a bunch of Moxen, and call it a day. You end up with a Cube where the best cards are wildly more powerful than the second-best cards, even if the second-best cards are stuff like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It's not very fun to play against Black Lotus if you don't have any busted cards yourself.
A lot of these new additions to the Magic Online Cube are so powerful that it's just correct to take them in a draft, independent of context. People play off-color Moxen in Vintage, after all, and Ancestral Recall and Time Walk are always worth splashing. So we added more than just the power. Mana Drain, Mind Twist, Tolarian Academy, and basically every other card that R&D is horrified of made the list, and we started looking for new ways to keep the power level somewhat flat.
In the unpowered Magic Online Cube, we chose not to include the Ravnica-block two-mana lands. When you play Dimir Aqueduct, for example, you get ahead a card in exchange for a minute tempo loss. The risk-reward tradeoffs for two-mana lands are more attractive than we would like. It's often correct to take two-mana lands before solidifying your color choices because of the raw card advantage they offer. However, once you have a bunch of two-mana lands in your deck, you're going to naturally look to take more gold cards and push the color fixing that you've gotten for free with your card-advantage-producing land. The result tends to be multiple drafters with many-colored midrange decks looking to grind out as much value as possible. The game play of those decks gets stale rather quickly, and so we avoided the two-mana lands to try to make Cube decks less homogenous. Now, though, we're comfortable including these powerful lands because they help raise the overall Cube power level such that it's not all concentrated in the Power Nine.
(An aside: one argument in favor of playing with two-mana lands in an unpowered Cube is that if you manage to punish the two-mana land player with land destruction, you get a huge advantage. My response has always been that it's not very fun to have such binary play patterns with two-mana lands. Either you kill the land and get way ahead, or you don't and you're way behind. Either way, it's not very satisfying.)
We included the Ravnica-block Signets alongside the Power Nine as well. The Signets take away some of the incentives to play green and tend to lead drafters toward similar kinds of three- or four-color midrange decks I was talking about earlier... but once some people in your draft have access to artifact mana that is totally busted, it's nice to have some level of artifact mana there for everyone.
The other big impact from the influx of powerful cards is a hit to one- and two-color aggressive decks. Most of the powerful additions to the Cube produce degenerate amounts of mana and propel slower controlling decks into the late game, where their most powerful spells can shine. Most aggressive decks want the game to remain in the early stages for as long as possible, using cards like Tangle Wire or Rishadan Port to stunt opposing mana development. Unfortunately for the beatdown decks, there are a lot more Mana Vault variants than Strip Mine variants.
We have done what we can to enable the beatdown decks. The Ice Age pain lands help smooth the mana of aggressive decks while not being very attractive for slower decks that have to manage their life total more carefully, and we've tried to enable a lot of ways to answer powerful artifacts with value. Even so, we think that midrange decks will be somewhat more powerful in this version of the Magic Online Cube and that hyper-focused aggressive decks will be somewhat behind. In a lot of ways, we're experimenting here to see what people enjoy the most—there have been a lot of requests for more mana fixing and more powerful cards in the Magic Online Cube, and we're trying to deliver on those wishes as much as possible.
Games with power can get pretty wild. Outrageous plays can happen when you start combining Black Lotus with Time Walk and various Planeswalkers. We think it's important that the Cube is fun to play with and draft over and over again—unlike Magic sets, the Cube is largely fixed and unchanging—and we're hoping that the higher variance from the power doesn't drive people away from the Cube.
This special Holiday Cube will only be available from December 19 until January 2, and you can check out the full details here. Please, let us know what you think of the new Cube and if you're having more fun playing with the power in this Cube than the normal Magic Online Cube. We are always listening, and we're always looking for ways to make Magic more fun.
Max McCall (m_mccall)
The Power Nine on Magic Online
Working on the Magic Online business team, I often get asked, "When are the Power Nine coming to Magic Online?" I can now definitively answer December 19, 2012, with the Magic Online Cube!
Unfortunately, that isn't the answer to the question players are really asking, which is, "When will players be able to build decks with the Power Nine?" That answer is a bit more complicated.
Magic Online is still exploring what the best way to release the Power Nine might be, and while we have some very interesting ideas, none of them are "the one!" Some may feel we are being overly cautions, but this decision is more complex than it seems on the surface and certainly not one we are taking lightly.
We need to make sure all of our internal teams are on board with how we bring the Power Nine to Magic Online. We also need to come up with a plan we think our players will like. Ultimately, we want players to have more access to these cards than they might in paper, but we also want to ensure that the cards maintain their status as Magic royalty.
In the digital age, there is a fine line between collectable and commonplace, and we need to be very careful with our distribution. We want the cards to be accessible, but not ordinary, and to this end, we are not going to rush to a decision. We will continue to tweak the various ideas we already have or examine new ideas as we design them, and when we find the plan that makes the most sense for us and our players, we will bring the Power Nine to Magic Online.
For us, this means more brainstorming, meetings, and planning. For you, the players, it means that we ask for a little more patience. That said, with Magic's 20th anniversary on the horizon, I can't think of a better way to celebrate than letting our fans collect—and build decks with—these amazing cards before the end of 2013.
Thanks and have fun,
Magic Online Business Manager