Cubers Anonymous - Planeswalker Magic: The Intervention
They don't care about how big you are; how small you are.
They just keep coming.
They don't care about how many people are in your group.
They just keep coming.
You feel safe for a while and maybe think the worst is over.
Then every few months another wave. Even more than the last time. How can they be better than the last ones? Eventually they'll just take over everything force themselves upon you. You can fight it as long as you can but time and numbers are on their side. You will eventually succumb.
Today is Halloween so it might seem like I'm talking about zombies. But in fact I'm talking about something even more terrifying for cube owners everywhere.
The last time we talked in an aside I mentioned the fact that in about a year we would have an epidemic concerning planeswalkers. That was one of the more talked about portions of my article so I know that people are very interested in talking about this subject and working out a solution as a community. And for those of you non-believers who may think I might be overreacting I assure you that the only way I would be wrong is if it happened sooner than expected.
So today we tackle the issue of PWP but not Planeswalker Points. I'm talking about Planeswalker Problems.
My cube is 540 cards and I have 22 planeswalkers among them. I would say most cubes between 360 cards and 720 cards all have roughly the same number anywhere from 20-25 'walkers. The only 'walkers I'm excluding at the moment in my cube are Chandra Ablaze Nissa Revane Chandra the Firebrand and Jace Memory Adept. That is an absurd percentage of cards of one type! And on top of that the last two that I stated are in a hell of a lot of cubes raising the number to 24 out of 26 for lots of cubes.
There are a few reasons for the planeswalker phenomenon so let's take a look.
1) We are addicted to planeswalkers.
And when I say we I meant everyone. I love planeswalkers. You love planeswalkers. Professional Magic players love planeswalkers. WotC loves planeswalkers. Your grandmother might not love planeswalkers but she sure is intrigued by the girl with the fire hair and the burly man with the whip. For the last four years Jace and company have been the face of the game and will be for the foreseeable future. Any why wouldn't they? They're a big reason why packs fly off shelves why people hit refresh twenty times at midnight during spoiler season why we talk with our friends about what our perfect planeswalker would be (foreshadowing) and why the game has had an insane upward trajectory since their introduction.
As a player who has half of his life invested in this game I didn't know what to make of them when I saw them in Lorwyn. Now four years later the simple fact is that they are incredibly fun and most are powerful; therefore they appeal to all types of players. Cube drafting is nothing if not fun so we have that base covered. I also believe that cubers are for the most part a little more on the competitive Magic side so it's fair to say that slamming a 'walker into play in a high-powered Limited game is near the top of the list on what gets us most excited. (In Magic terms. You're better than that.)
2) They beg to be built around.
Chandra Ablaze is a terrible card by most accounts. Even given that I have seen her and Nissa Revane (often with her little duders as a bonus) in cube lists before. Whenever I ask the owner why the hell these cards are anywhere near real Magic cards they usually reply in a mouth-breathing “Becuz they is super cool when you first pickle them!” (Just kidding I would never call anyone who is down with cubing such a thing. It's not like they're Commander players or anything.)
If I had to pick ten cards in my cube that I could first pick and build a deck around these would be the ten in no particular order:
Half of the list is filled by planeswalkers (strangely four slots are filled by enchantments but I don't think we are in any danger of an enchantment epidemic) and they all do wildly different things. Even though sometimes cards like Tezzeret Agent of Bolas or Nicol Bolas don't get drafted highly they are so much fun to have when they are the centerpiece that it makes me sad to even think about removing them from my cube.
Even the ugliest super model is a super model and even the worst planeswalker is a planeswalker that can rip a game apart if drafted around. Again the fact that the rest of the 'walkers are varying degrees of awesome make them fun and powerful.
3) Power Creep.
I know these are dirty words. We all complain about power creep but secretly or not secretly we love the waves of new powerful cards that grace our binders and decks every three months.
The most powerful set as far as cubes go in recent memory was Mirrodin Besieged. I have a very healthy thirteen cards from that set alone in my cube. Now that may not seem like a lot but when you consider that there are over seventy sets of Magic cards that number looks a lot bigger. If I included thirteen cards from every set my cube would double in size. Mirrodin Besieged isn't a fluke either; it's part of a trend. Power creep began in earnest in Ravnica (original Mirrodin was more of a fluke and in cube terms doesn't have really all that many cube cards for a set of its size) and has continued through present day. Lorwyn really started the trend for cubes as that was the point that cube-able cards really started spiking in numbers.
I'm sure you can pick up what I'm putting down as the correlation isn't difficult to make. Lorwyn has over twenty in my cube which is a very large number for a cube of its size. If you go through and look at the number of cards from there it really is shocking how skewed everything becomes from that point forward. I am a very hard judge of new cards and usually it takes me a few updates to include every card that should be included from a new set. Considering that Innistrad has seventeen cards included currently which I would probably guess is the single biggest update from a new set that I've ever done. Wizards is getting better and better at making cards that have wide uses and that should be music to cube owner's ears. Even still it makes our job difficult when it comes to cutting cards—and particularly cutting planeswalkers? Man you really have to twist someone's arm.
So given these points here is the sum of the issue: we have to look at how we evaluate cards for each personal specific cube. I know this sounds like what everyone does when a new set is released so let me dig a little deeper.
Originally a cube was put together as the most powerful cards in the history of Magic. Some have power some don't but that isn't a large concern when we are talking about the objective of a general cube. My personal cube started as such like almost everyone's does. But I've gotten to the point where I am now sculpting a specific environment of how I want drafts/sealed/rotisserie to play out. There are strategies that don't exist and some that do to a higher than average degree.
I know these are all things that have been spoken about ad nauseam for years about cubes. Here is where it takes the turn—when I omitted Jace Memory Adept from my M12 inclusions; I had the most questions by far of any card when it came to new cards. Is it too powerful? Is he good enough? No he's perfectly reasonable planeswalker really only to be utilized to his fullest extent in a control deck so his power level isn't an issue. Are there already too many blue planeswalkers? No again I have four white planeswalkers and they coexist very well. So why not Jace Memory Adept?
I simply didn't want mill to be a viable option outside of a few smacks with Sword of Body and Mind. But he's not mill; he's a win condition! Of course he is but I don't want games to end in my cube from a couple of 0 ability activations of a non-interactive planeswalker. There isn't a deck I can think of that would be drafted in standard cubes where you say “Man if only I could open a Jace Memory Adept...” I have played with Jace in other cubes before and he's fine. Just meh nothing special. But the entire point is the precedent I chose to set in my cube and every cube owner is going to be faced with a similar decision soon even if you think you've got it figured out.
It's been four years and we still don't have it figured out how to evaluate new planeswalkers. Given their context they are almost all in the top 5% of cards ever created for each of their colors. The rate of inclusion which we went over in the beginning is astounding and their power level is through the roof. We want high power in our cubes but it becomes a bit much even for me when I constantly see four and five planeswalkers in up to two decks in tons of drafts.
I know this is the part of the article where you find the answer to these questions but it's tough even for me to do that and I've talked to lots of people and given this topic much thought. I think from this point forward people are really going to have to look at what strategies each planeswalker enables rather than the raw power of each. The well is deep for them but it looks like Wizards is going to make most new 'walkers narrower than previously which should be a huge sigh of relief going forward. Sure there will be no-brainer all-archetype planeswalkers in the future like Jace the Mind Sculptor Elspeth Knight-Errant and Garruk Primal Hunter (seriously HOW THE F&@# DO YOU BEAT THIS GUY!?!?!) but those will be less and less as time (and mechanics) go on.
Over the past four years since planeswalkers have existed a perfect average of six new planeswalkers have been released every year with 24 total through M12. Innistrad has two making the total 26 but those will count towards next calendar year's total anyway (calendar year starting with the large fall expansion running through the summer core set). So we can expect four more planeswalkers this year but there is no way we can put a metric on the cube-ability of those cards. That means we are looking at 32 planeswalkers by next fall and a massive 48 by the year 2015. Luckily there will be a new planeswalker named Dack Fayden and based on name alone he is sure to be completely terrible so we can actually take him out of our numbers. Dack. Fayden. Seriously Wizards? Seriously?!? Seriously.
A rough estimate shows that the planeswalker card type in my cube is around 4.5% which I think is perfectly fine for the moment. I doubt that any cube wants over 5% so I think that would be a safe valve to cap it at. That would be 13 'walkers in a 360 card cube 27 in a 540 card cube and 36 in a 720 card cube. Each of those numbers should probably be trimmed down a bit as almost all planeswalkers make final decks so each one that you see in your draft is fairly likely to be played.
I hope this has helped cube owners understand where we are with planeswalker numbers and more importantly showed where we are headed on this very important topic. This is something that the cube-munity needs to really talk about as there isn't an easy fix. Hit the forums and join the conversation.
Before I go I want to remind you to head over to facebook.com/MTGCubeDrafting to take part in our weekly Random Booster poll. This will be about the fifth week in so if you haven't voted in the past polls there is still active discussion on each to have your voice be heard. Hopefully soon it will be the hub of all things Cube so jump aboard now!
Also check out the current Cube Rotisserie Draft to be played out at SCG: Charlotte featuring the Invitational. This is the third in the series and it has shaped up very uh interestingly to say the least. There are usually several people in the docs chatting so go check it out!
And last but certainly not least you most definitely want to check out Ali Aintrazi's latest article as he has a special announcement for all of you cube-lovers (basically everyone reading here). Ali and I are jointly working on building a completely custom 360-card cube made up of mainly new cards we have designed including mechanics planeswalkers and power cards. Ali is previewing all five of the power cards over the next five weeks in his articles one for each color. The project won't be done for several more months but keep checking back here Ali's column Rise of Aintrazi and facebook.com/MTGCubeDrafting for more news!
Thank you all for reading and be sure to hit the forums to join the discussion!
@JParnell1 on Twitter