Battle Boxes Reforged

Although we’re only a week away from the release of Dragons of Tarkir, I’ve been busy doing father stuff and haven’t written up my Fate Reforged updates yet. Rather than force the two sets into one big article, I think there’s enough to be said about each of them. I do promise I’ll follow this up with a Dragons of Tarkir update in a couple of weeks.

The main reason Fate Reforged deserves its own article is the manifest mechanic, which offers some great cards for the Battle Box format. A quick recap: Manifest allows a player to turn the top card of their library into a face-down creature. If the face-down card is a creature, it can be turned face-up at any time by paying its casting cost (or morph cost if it has one). If it is not a creature, it cannot be turned face-up. Manifest is an interesting mechanic in any format, introducing a surprise factor to the game with a mystery element both for the player manifesting the creature and for that player’s opponent(s). In Battle Box, the appeal of manifest is considerably higher because there are no lands in the deck, and about half of the cards are creatures. This means there is around a 50% chance of any manifested card being a creature, making for very interesting board states. Having a few morphs in the Box adds even more excitement, but they are by no means necessary to have fun with manifest. Of course, because the chance of hitting a creature is so high, manifest is a much more high-powered mechanic in the Battle Box format. Luckily, the power level of the manifest cards ranges from just OK to constructed playable, so there are certainly suitable candidates for both my standard Battle Box and my more powerful Commander Box. I’ll go through the cards I’m adding to each of them, as well as which cards I’m replacing and why.

The Battle Box: Cards In

I added the following cards to my Battle Box:

I’m taking out a few overpowered mass destruction options, and needed to replace them with a more fairly powered option. Arcbond can indeed still be powerful, but it needs the right set of circumstances. Knowing when to play Arcbond is not easy, which adds to the card’s appeal.

I considered putting all three manifest auras into the Battle Box, but ultimately decided to leave out Rageform (which will get a spot in the Commander Box). Manifesting for three mana is a nice deal, and getting flying and hexproof in the bargain makes this a great card. I don’t want too much hexproof in my box, but giving it to a random creature (which will remain a vanilla 2/2 half the time) seems like it should be OK.

Destructor Dragon
A 4/4 flyer for 6 that gets to destroy something when it dies is exactly the right power level for the Battle Box. The fact that this can destroy lands automatically puts it on the watch list for a future update, but I think it is interesting enough to see how it fares. It does kind of frustrate my inner Vorthos that 4/4 is the baseline for a dragon now; it seems it should be 5/5 after the Dragongranddaddy. In a sensible world, Dragons should beat the living snot out of Angels and Vampires alike.

Dualcaster Mage
Not really a Fate Reforged card, but I did acquire it at the Fate Reforged Prerelease, so I’m counting it. I wanted a few more creatures with cool ETB triggers, and the Dualcaster Mage seems like the perfect fit. The generally lower power level of the instants and sorceries in the Box should make sure the Mage isn’t too powerful.

Ethereal Ambush
What’s better than a 50% chance of manifesting a creature card? Exactly, a 75% chance of manifesting at least one creature card! Although the mana cost is a little steep, you will hardly ever be disappointed drawing this later in the game. And for a common, I fully expected this to be a sorcery, which happily it isn’t (in fact, I was so convinced it would be that I played it as a sorcery all through my Prerelease).

Flamerush Rider
The fact that this doesn’t work when it’s the only attacking creature brings the power level down enough to warrant inclusion. I’m curious to see how often dashing a Flamerush Rider will end the game. If it turns out to be always, it will be on the chopping block in the next update.

Jeskai Infiltrator
Probably the best manifest card I included in the Battle Box. Again, the restriction on its ability brings the power level within Battle Box range. I think the Infiltrator will provide some really fun blocking decisions.

I think lifelink is a little less risky than hexproof for the balance of the Box, so I think this will be a home run.

Mardu Strike Leader
Although I would not soon include a free token maker like Goblin Rabblemaster or Bitterblossom, I think the fact that the Strike Leader needs to attack to get the token gives it enough downside to be an interesting card for the Box. It has some runaway potential but certainly not in every game.

An older card I failed to notice when building my initial Box. It’s a great utility card and an easy inclusion now that Fate Reforged has drawn my attention to it.

Reality Shift
A very versatile card that can get rid of an oppressive creature, exchange a tapped creature for a fresh (and potentially scary) blocker, or just exchange a mediocre creature for value. The fact that this is an instant makes this a lot of fun.

Ruthless Instincts
This card is a little pricy for either effect, but the fact that it makes a good defensive card as well as a decent offensive card makes it worth it. Besides, you probably don’t want to use either effect until later in the game, when the mana cost is less of an issue.

Scroll of the Masters
I’m curious to see how the Scroll works out. With about 50% of the spells being noncreature, it will grow steadily but slowly. On the other hand, the bonus will often be relevant in combat. I can see this card forcing quite a few suboptimal blocks, even if it is never activated.

Shockmaw Dragon
Works together nicely with other direct damage spells, like the Pyrotechnics I just added as well. Also, it is the second Fate Reforged dragon that makes it into the Box. Makes me wonder what Dragons of Tarkir will do for the Box’s Dragon count.

Temur Battle Rage
Having a creature with power 4 on the battlefield is certainly possible while at the same time being difficult enough. And getting double strike and trample is certainly worth waiting for the right circumstances. Although it is only a common, I am keeping an eye on this because I suspect it might end the game a bit more often than it should.

Temur War Shaman
A nice set of abilities, none of which is overpowered without a well-tuned deck around it.

Valorous Stance
A card that can save your best creature or get rid of an opposing fatty is both versatile and fun.

A card with a lot of potential, as well as a high chance of being only mediocre. You will be tempted to sink all your mana into this, meaning that even if you manifest a sweet creature card, you will not have the mana to turn it face up. My guess is the creature will draw any available removal, probably rightly so.

Write into Being
Again, 75% of hitting a nice creature to manifest is not bad. Being able to choose whether or not to give the other card to your opponent is a nice Battle Box feature. If you draw this early, the cheaper mana cost will put this above Ethereal Ambush.

So, all in all 8 manifest cards and 11 other cards were added to the Box. This makes the chance of a player drawing at least one manifest card about 16% on the first turn, 39% on the tenth turn and 57% on the twentieth turn. I think that’s a good balance between manifest creatures showing up and every game revolving around them. That said, if I like the situations with manifest creatures enough, I may be tempted to slot in a few more manifest cards in the next update.

The Battle Box: Cards Out

To make room for all these changes, I took the following cards out of the Battle Box:

Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Austere Command
Ogre Slumlord
Ral Zarek
Sarkhan Vol
Shipbreaker Kraken
Shivan Dragon
These cards were generally a bit overpowered. Although I still believe it is OK to have a few bombs in the Battle Box, their percentage was just a little too high. Also, there were a few cards in this category that were just too efficient (mainly the planeswalkers) to be considered fair.

Council’s Judgment
Domineering Will
Magister of Worth
Mana-Charged Dragon
Syphon Flesh
Tempt with Reflections
Wolfcaller’s Howl
Because we always end up playing my Commander Box when there’s more than two of us, I mostly play my standard Battle Box in duels. It didn’t make sense to keep specific multiplayer cards in the Box as they are often more powerful than fun in a duel setting (or useless, which is even worse). Eliminating these also gives the Box a much clearer focus. I still left all 5 land sets in the Box; I can imagine in a future update I will eliminate one or more land sets to make room for extra cards in the main deck.

Balduvian Frostwaker
His effect was too easily translated into land destruction, which goes against the spirit of the format.

Breaching Leviathan
Its mana cost was far too unwieldy for an effect that was likely to hit you almost as hard as it would hit your opponent.

Fanatic of Xenagos
I don’t like the tribute mechanic in a duel setting. You’re always getting the worst deal, and the Fanatic isn’t the most exciting card in either mode.

Perplexing Chimera
Perplexing indeed. Although it seemed a nice chaos card when I added it, it too often led to players not playing their most powerful spells for fear of them getting stolen. Like many other chaos cards, it’s impact on the game is just too warping to be really fun.

The Commander Box: Commander Pool Changes

I made two changes to the Commander Pool. I took out Medomai and Marath for just being generally underwhelming. I added Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest and Yasova Dragonclaw because they both have an interesting ability and a modest casting cost. Including some cheaper Commanders in the Commander Pool will help people play and replay their Commander more often, even though there are obviously stronger Commanders in the Box.

The Commander Box: Cards In

I added the following cards to my Commander Box:

Archfiend of Depravity
A competitively priced flyer that keeps your opponents down to two creatures seems like a good Commander card all round. It helps prevent board states from getting out of control, which is a welcome side effect for a Battle Box designer.

A single hit manifest card may not be strong enough for the Commander Box, although I suspect the hexproof compensates for this a little. Time will tell…

Mastery of the Unseen
Normally I am not a fan of cards that have high activation costs, because it takes a very long time for a game to get to a state where players have unused mana lying around. This could very well be true for Mastery of the Unseen, but having a repeatable manifest engine seems cool enough to at least give it a shot.

Double strike on a face-down creature almost reads “you had better block me”, so I’m curious to see whether this creates interesting choices or not. Much like Cloudform, I’m not sure the card is strong enough for the Commander Box.

Shaman of the Great Hunt
Buffing up your creatures with a reasonably efficient draw engine seems like a fine thing to do in a game of Commander. I’m not expecting the card draw to be used often, but on the other hand once will probably be enough. I think this card works especially well with token making Commanders like Darien and Prossh.

Torrent Elemental
Although it doesn’t see a lot of constructed play, this card usually means Game Over in a limited duel. In the Commander Box, only one opponent can be tapped down each turn, making the power level more acceptable. I don’t think the activated ability will be relevant a lot of the time, but I still think the card is strong enough to be included.

Valorous Stance
Protection and removal in one makes this a versatile card that you would almost always be happy to draw.

Whisperwood Elemental
An amazing card with the potential of being a game breaker. I can’t wait to play this and follow it up with a board sweeper.

Council’s Judgment
Domineering Will
Magister of Worth
Tempt with Reflections
Some of the multiplayer cards I took out of the standard Battle Box were instant candidates to be included in the Commander Box. I try not to have too many cards in both Boxes overlap because I want the play experiences to be as different as possible. These four cards seemed interesting enough to be included in the Commander Box.

The Commander Box: Cards Out

To make room for all these changes, I took the following cards out of the Commander Box:

Bloom Tender
Druids’ Repository
Etched Oracle
Stormsurge Kraken
I took out some cards that don’t fit the spirit of the format very well. These cards focused on mana ramp and card advantage and not much else, so they had to go.

Angelic Field Marshal
Brave the Sands
Giving your whole team vigilance doesn’t create very interesting game states because it makes attacking a weaker opponent essentially free. Vigilance is a nice ability to have on some creatures but not on all of them.

Assault Suit
I expected this card to be a lot of fun, but having seen it in action a few times it didn’t deliver. A lot of the time the creature would be passed around without anyone doing anything with it. Add to that the significant mana investment required, and you’re looking at a pretty underwhelming card.

Corpsejack Menace
The synergies this card needs to be interesting just didn’t come up enough of the time for it to matter. Four mana for essentially a vanilla 4/4 is just not strong enough for the Commander Box.

Although this card has the potential for some cool board states, a lot of the time it just reads “turn my whole team into huge flying monsters”. I try to minimize one shot game finishers like this, so I decided to take it out.

Necromantic Selection
Seven mana is a lot for a mass destruction effect, even if you get to keep one of the creatures around. I felt there were enough mass destruction effects to eliminate one.

Nezumi Graverobber
Graveyard hate is not very important in the Commander Box, and the recursion side of the Graverobber is just too fragile to be worth the investment.

So, all in all 4 manifest cards (two of them repeatable) and 8 other cards were added to the Commander Box. This makes the chance of a player drawing at least one manifest card about 9% on the first turn, 24% on the tenth turn and 37% on the twentieth turn. Although this is a lot lower than in the standard Box, the repeatable manifest cards will have a much bigger impact, so I think these lower percentages will be OK. Thinking about all the fun that can be had with manifest cards (as well as morphs and dragons in general), I’m convinced a Khans block only Battle Box could be a nice project to do in the future. I might add that to my “under construction” projects after thinking a little more about it.

That’s all the updates for now. You can always find the fully updated project lists here (including any updates done after this article was published).