My Battle Boxes Reimagined

I don’t update my Battle Boxes as often as I’d like to. Recently, I started to ask myself why…

Like a Cube, a Battle Box is a very personal project that flows with time, ever changing and adapting to new sets and cards coming out. But somehow, when a new set came out, I would often be daunted by the prospect of making changes to my Boxes. I would see some cards I liked, but deciding which of the 300+ cards to take out was just too difficult.

I’ve always said that unlike in Cube, in Battle Box it is less important to make sure your colors are precisely balanced. It doesn’t matter if you have more red cards than blue or more Dimir cards than Selesnya. And I still think that’s true. For the play experience, an exact balance has little to no impact. But it does have an impact when I’m updating the Box. If you maintain a cube, your decisions are simple. If you have a Dimir card you want to add, you only have to compare it to the Dimir cards that are already in your cube and decide which one of them to replace (if any). Instead of having to go through 300+ cards, you only have to go through a handful.

Long story short, I have decided to color balance my main Battle Boxes (the original Battle Box and the Commander Box) in the hope that this will make it easier to update the Boxes when new sets come out. And what better time to undertake a project like this than a Christmas Holiday with the country in lockdown.

Land set considerations

I’m dreaming of a…
There are a lot of things to consider when building a Battle Box, but a lot of it starts with which lands to include in the land sets. The first question I had to answer was whether I wanted to jump through the necessary hoops to include snow cards. It’s not an easy question, because the number of playable snow cards is probably about 10-20, which is not a lot. On the other hand, the existence of both snow basics and snow tap lands also means the cost for Battle Box design is not that high. The main thing sacrificed by including snow in my Boxes was the variety of basic land artworks I could include. This is not a meaningless sacrifice (like many people I love basic land artwork), but in the end I decided it was worth it. I included a set of snow taplands in the Battle Box and a set of snow basics in the Commander Box. I purposely did not want to have 10 snow lands in one box, because I think this makes for less interesting decisions and overpowers certain snow cards too much.

Mana rocks
The other consideration, especially for the Commander Box, was how to optimize the mana development. Because the average mana value of the cards in the Commander Box is higher than normal, I want to speed up mana development during the first turns. The solution to this used to be to just drop five basics into play at the start of the game. This kind of worked, but it was very heavy handed and took the fun out of planning your mana development to optimize your plays. The new solution, which also embraces the spirit of modern Commander a little more, is to include a Sol Ring in each land set. This means players have access to 4 mana on turn two, which is still fast but doesn’t impact the challenge of correctly sequencing your land drops. To facilitate the inclusion of the Sol Rings, a special rule has been added that states that every time a Sol Ring is destroyed, exiled or put into a player’s library, the player may opt to put it into their land set to play again instead. How Commander is that?

Color breakdown

Battle Box
So, down to the nitty gritty. How many cards of each color or color combination did I include? This wasn’t a very scientific process; I looked at what cards were already there, and tried to find a good middle ground between those. This meant that some colors needed to be pruned while others got a little boost. I ended up with the following color breakdown:

  • 52 cards in each of the 5 colors
  • 7 cards in each 2-color combination
  • 1 card in each 3-color combination
  • No multicolor cards
  • 20 colorless cards

My aim is to leave these numbers alone unless it becomes clear they should be changed to fix a problem with the box. In principle, from now on when I add a card in a certain color or color combination, it will replace a card in the same color(s). Hopefully this will also help me decide on changes a little faster after each new set release.

Commander Box
I went through a similar process with the Commander Box. Its basic breakdown is:

  • 48 cards in each of the 5 colors
  • 9 cards in each 2-color combination
  • 3 cards in each 3-color combination
  • 5 multicolor cards (4 colors or more)
  • 45 colorless cards

I took a card’s actual color to determine where it slotted, not its color identity. Although color identity would fit well with the Commander theme, it’s just not as practical – when browsing through the pile, a blue card looks blue, even if there’s a black activation cost hidden somewhere in its text box.

The final question was what to do with the Commanders. In principle, there are more than enough commanders in each color combination to distribute colors evenly. The issue is that some colors have more predatory mechanics than others, meaning their potential commanders care about narrow conditions to work well (like for example artifacts, high powered creatures or sacrificing). Needless to say this does not mesh well with a format where everyone draws from the same deck. In the end, after scouring for hours, I decided I could find enough fun open-ended commanders in each color combination to make it work. The breakdown is now as follows:

  • 1 commander in each of the 5 colors
  • 2 commanders in each 2-color combination
  • 1 commander in each 3-color combination
  • 1 multicolor commander (4 colors), although the white commander (Kenrith) also has a multicolor feel.

I have looked at colorless commanders, but at present I don’t feel there’s an option that would be a fun addition to the Battle Box. I will keep my eyes open for one in the future though.

Rounding up

It was not an easy task to rebalance my big Battle Boxes, and doubtless in the future I will find things that need tweaking. On the other hand, Neon Dynasty is almost upon us, and from what I’ve seen this will already tempt me to overhaul a significant number of cards. So we’ll soon get to see whether the new setup works.

Enjoy the new Battle Box lists!