This Blog

So it has been a long time since I have posted here, and there are many reasons for that. Those reasons range from sweeping life changes in my career and living situation, to my general mental state, to simply not knowing what I want to write about. The majority of those reasons are excuses.

Why do I make excuses?

Because I feel that I made some sort of commitment to be posting here semi regularly and I feel guilty for failing to follow through. The pressure of commitment often helps people get things done, but I find the opposite is true for me. And so, to avoid any amount of gross depression spirals centered around my inability to maintain a blog, I am changing my commitment here to this:

I am going to post here whenever there is something I want to post about.

That’s it. I’m not going to try scrape together talking points just to meet some imaginary quota. That simply degrades the quality of posts, as can be seen in my last few posts, and generally stresses me out. It’s counter productive.

So, for anyone who bothers to read this, don’t hate me too much. Just know that when I make a post, it’s because there is something I want to talk about. When I haven’t posted in a while, it’s probably because I don’t have anything to say.

Or what I do have to say is about things that I doubt anyone wants to hear, like politics and generally being a giant weeb.

If you have a problem with that, feel free to leave a comment.

When Does It End?

Every game has a start, a middle, and an end. Well, not all games have an end, but each one should have an endgame.

The endgame is going to be very different between different types of games. In abstract games like Set, the endgame is simply when the deck is running low or empty. In games with a little more depth, however, the endgame is where players are going to be rewarded for their actions taken earlier in the game. When you are designing a game, it is incredibly important understand how your game is supposed to end and plan accordingly. Today I would like to talk about different endgames and their pros and cons.

Let’s start with Magic: The Gathering. While Magic has a plethora of formats and variations that fundamentally change the way the game is played, it has a very simple endgame design: As turns go by, players play more lands (allowing them to cast larger spells that have a higher chance of ending the game in their favor) and draw more cards (allowing players to cast more spells and have a larger influence on the gamestate) slowly building towards a player losing all of their life or all of their cards. Now Magic, in all of its glory, has many play styles and strategies that don’t experience the endgame in the same way. It still, however, has a built-in endgame concept that rewards strategic gameplay in the early game.

Now take a look at another of my favorite games, “Clank!”. Clank! is a deck building game wherein you play as adventurers(See also: Thieves) who are sneaking into a dragon’s dungeon to steal artifacts and other loot and make it out alive. The endgame here is twofold: As in all deck building games, you modify your play deck as the game goes on and by the end, your play experience is greatly affected by the cards you bought earlier in the game. At the same time, players’ actions in the early game affect their position on the board in the late game when it is time to run. I think Clank! does an excellent job in both game progression and endgame rewards.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game that can have any number of different types of endgame, but the goal remains the same in each one. Reward(or punish) the players for their actions earlier in the game while reaching a tidy conclusion to the story that you’ve all been telling. This might be allowing the players to use their uniquely designed characters to do wondrous things, or maybe it’s just having everyone come together to defeat the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy). The beauty of D&D is that it can be whatever the players and game master want it to be. But this means that it is even more important for those involved to understand what a good endgame is, and how to cultivate it.

So let’s take a look at a few games that don’t have a particularly great endgame. Rather than rag on finished products, I am going to talk about games that are still in development, as they still have hope of improving their endgame in later versions.

This first one is a PC game still in alpha, but an amazing game nonetheless. I’m talking about 7 Days To Die, a zombie apocalypse crafting survival game. I could gush about how much I love this game all day, but today we’re talking about endgame. 7DTD suffers from a problem that many survival games suffer from, and that is a lack of an endgame all together. There is a good amount of progression and there is certainly a learning curve to the game, but upon establishing a fairly safe dwelling and securing a sustainable source of food and water (both of which are doable before night 4), there isn’t much left to do but explore the map. The survival becomes trivial and there ceases to be any real reward for doing anything. Your biggest enemy quickly becomes boredom. This could be (and undoubtedly will be) alleviated by a variety of things. Adding more unique items to the game would offer rewards for exploring every nook and cranny of the map. Adding harder enemies in later game stages would keep the survival aspect rolling. But these things just prolong the inevitable. Eventually, there will be no more to explore and the game will stop being difficult. This happens with most survival games, and anything that you do to help this will boil down to one of two things: Adding content to extend the endgame or increasing the difficulty to make reaching the endgame harder. Unfortunately, when the goal of the game is “survive as long as you can”, there is no way for the game to end in a satisfactory way. While this is an inherent problem of the genre, it is worth noting in the design process.

The last game I will be talking about is a mobile phone game that was immensely popular on initial release, but shortly fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons. Pokemon Go. The game concept is pretty simple: Catch pokemon, level them up, and use them to take and hold gyms. The level cap of your pokemon is determined by your trainer level, so you have incentive to be gaining as much XP as possible along the way. But what is the goal? Hold a bunch of gyms? What are you supposed to do when you are holding all the gyms in your area? Catch more pokemon? There isn’t really much of an endgame at all. When you reach the level cap, you don’t unlock any new features. You might still be fighting over gyms with other trainers, but there isn’t really anything to work towards.

Hopefully you can see where I am going with this. Having a good endgame means rewarding your players for the actions they took to get there, or maybe even just getting there in the first place. If you are making a game that is designed to never end, then your content must also be endless(Or at least endless in the sense that players will never reach the end). Players’ opinions of games are greatly affected by the way it comes to an end. When the game concluded, did they feel their actions meant something? Did their strategy pay off, or at least come close? By simply finishing the game, did they acheive something great? Did the story that was being told come to a nice conclusion? All of these things are going to affect how players feel about a game, but what about the games that don’t end? I would argue that when a player reaches the end of new content in an “ongoing” game, they have reached the “end”. Think about a survival game that was fun for a while, but eventually became really easy as the challenges stop getting harder. If you described the game as “fun for a while, but it gets boring eventually”, would your friends want to play it?

If your game is supposed to tell a story, like every role-playing game ever, then it needs a good ending. If it is supposed to cultivate different strategies, then those strategies need to have a payoff. If it is supposed to be a game where the goal is to achieve one thing, like a survival game, then that better be difficult to do.

And this is why endgame is so important. It is the last impression that we get of a game, and the heaviest influence that we are going to have on recommending it. It is what makes the game feel worth playing at all. I love 7DTD because I know that it isn’t finished yet. If its current state was the finished product, I would be unable to recommend it to anyone. And this is why I urge all game designers to take a good, hard look at their endgame. Don’t just slap a “whoever gets to X points first wins” on the end and call it a day. Really take time to consider how the game is meant to be played how it should finish in kind. Disagree? Have something to add? Leave a comment and let me know.

Why We Play

Games are fun. That’s why we play them. But what makes a game fun? Is it having intricate game play mechanics that take great skill to master? Is it the element of chance and not knowing what is about to happen? What about being totally immersive in the game world? Or being simple and abstract enough to play with your kids?

If you have read any of my previous posts, you can probably guess where I am going with this: Today I want to talk about the subjectivity of gaming and how that relates to game design.

No game holds the title of “Best game of all time for everyone”. Some people absolutely love Monopoly. Others consider it absolutely trash and not even worth the card stock it is printed on. Others still respect it as a commentary on capitalism and nothing more. This isn’t because the game is different for each player, it’s because the players themselves find different things fun.

Here is a chart that I really like. I feel it does a good job of encompassing the many facets of gaming motivations. The guys over at really know what they are talking about.

When it comes to designing a game, understanding these concepts is huge and it will lead you to one of two paths: You can try to cover as many of these motivations as possible, or you can focus on representing a few of them really well. Now sure, it’s not that black and white, all games are going to land on spectrum between those two extremes. You should, however, still be keeping this in mind.

So take a moment and look these over. Pick 3-5 that you look for the most in games. Try to get an idea of what your favorite games are and why you like them. I’ll use myself as an example:

Most important: Design, Strategy

Secondary: Challenge, Community, Competition, Fantasy

Now, to try to make a point here, let’s talk about a wildly renowned game and why people like it – Magic: The Gathering.

If you look at MTG, its lore, and all of its formats (both official and player created) you can see that every motivation outside of the action column is covered in one way or another. It should be no surprise, then, that MTG is massively popular and regarded very highly by many. Looking at my motivations, it should also be no surprise that my favorite formats are cube (specifically cube design) and EDH (specifically deck building). So with that in mind, I would like to tie this back into MTG cube design. (Not all of my posts here are going to be about cube, but it is certainly one of my favorite things to talk about.)

In MTG, people play a variety of decks for a variety of reasons. These reasons are going to be strongly tied to each person’s gaming motivations. When you design a cube, you are telling people what decks they can play. Knowing this, we go back to our game design spectrum.

On one hand, you can try to include a wide variety strategies that cater to these different motivations, and this is by far the most popular. This option is the best for those who do not know their player base and want to create a drafting environment that will always be playable and fun for everyone.

On the other hand, you can try to create a cube that is designed to entertain specific motivations. These are usually themed cubes to some degree, but not always. Just make sure you know your players. If your friends all really value power in their games, a pauper cube might be a huge flop. Those who really value design might not enjoy a cube where every card is obviously forced into one specific archetype, like a tribal heavy cube. Those who much prefer competition over community might not really enjoy playing a multiplayer cube.

This isn’t to say that themed cubes are bad. In fact, if you have the right theme for the right players, themed cubes can be some of the most fun magic anyone can play. You just need to make sure you know your players, and if you don’t, you need to understand that not everyone is going to love your cube.

So what are your gaming motivations? What is your favorite game? If you have one, what is your favorite themed cube? Leave a comment, and let me know.

Cubing with poorly supported archetypes

As a magic player, I have always been drawn to play styles that differ from the traditional theaters of aggro, midrange, and control. So today I want to talk about supporting the more fringe archetypes including my favorite archetype: Lands-Matter.

Lands-Matter is a little harder to support than most archetypes, and to do so requires an understanding of how many support cards are needed. It is important to note, that some archetypes are going to be draftable at 8 players, but be a trap in a 4 person pod. Some archetypes are supportable in smaller cubes, but fall flat in the bigger lists. There are many things to consider when choosing which archetypes to support in your cube, and which to draft when the time comes.

So let’s get a picture of what I’m talking about here. In a traditional draft, you are going to draft a total of 45 cards across 3 packs, of which you need to find 22-24 playables. Among those playables, you will want archetype cards, on-color interaction (removal spells, counters, wraths, etc.), and will likely fill out the remaining slots with on-color efficient threats and value cards. For a combo-esque archetype like reanimator, only a few of those need to be your archetype cards. The draw, card selection, removal and so forth will all be cards that function completely independent of the reanimator archetype.


A lands-matter deck on the other hand will need a lot more of the deck dedicated to land related synergies to make the otherwise underwhelming cards worth playing. Lets say that we are going to want *at least* 10 cards in our draft deck to work with our hypothetical strategy. So that means we are going to need to draft synergies for 10 out of our 45 cards. This means we are going to need to see at least 3.33 (let’s round up to 4) of these cards per round. Now you need to know the minimum number of people you will be drafting with. Let’s say you draft with 4 people minimum. This means to see 4 each round, you will want 1 out of every 15 cards to have synergies that coincide with your archetype. In a 360 card cube, that’s 24 cards. Also keep in mind that some cards won’t ever make it around to our drafter. To account for this, we may want to boost our number. Now, all of these numbers are ball-park guesses and they are all variable depending on the number of drafters, size of packs, number of draft rounds, and of course the archetype in question. This should, however, give you at least a little perspective on this issue.

So let’s assume that 10 card limit holds for my lands-matter deck. If I want to support it in a 360 cube and I want it to be draftable at 4 players, I need 24 lands-matter cards in my cube. If I jump up to 540 cards(the size of my cube), that number grows to 36. However if I concede and decide to only support it at 8+ players, that number now drops to 18. Not all archetypes have a surplus of unique, playable support cards, and you need to take this and your expected number of drafters into consideration when you are designing your cube.

It is not inherently wrong to include archetypes that only really shine in larger draft pods, but try to keep it to a minimum. Too many thinly-spread archetypes will leave for a heavily inconsistent drafting experience with smaller groups of drafters. Lands-Matter is a pet deck of mine that I really want to be draftable. It does not have many support cards, but luckily it bleeds together with the Rock/Stax archetype that I am also supporting. Lands-Matter is the only archetype I support that is this thinly supported, but it is certainly draftable with enough people.

So what fringe archetypes do you run? Do you ever find them undraftable? Leave a comment and let me know.

The Value of Gold

When it comes to cubes, it’s all about the gold.

Okay, maybe not ALL about the gold, but the gold cards are an undeniably important part. When you design the multicolored section of your cube, make sure you consider the basic properties of multicolored cards.
Multicolored cards are often considered the most fun to draft
There is something undeniably exciting about multicolored cards. Something that makes them more attractive to acquire and feel better to play. For examples of this, look no further than the multitude of cubes that people have created that consist entirely of gold cards. You may even be one such creator. Because multicolored cards are often some of the most exciting cards in your cube, especially for new players, it would be in your best interest to make sure they are as exciting as can be. This has nothing to do with balance, but drafting is usually about having fun. If people often have fun doing something with your cube, you should be trying to cultivate that fun. Remember though, in a traditional cube and without the appropriate manafixing, too many multicolored cards can be a problem. You want to limit the number of multicolored cards you include to avoid flooding the cube with them. Because of this, you need to be very selective with the cards you choose to fill these valuable slots.

Wizards often uses multiple colors to justify unique and above-curve effects
The power level of multicolored cards is often a step above their mono-colored equivalents. This is no design oversight, as multicolored cards require you to diversify your mana base and generally lower the consistency of your deck. Now this may go without saying, but you should be keeping this in mind. Your multicolored cards need to be worth drafting. The effects they offer should either be worth adding an additional color to your deck, or sturdily support an archetype in those colors. You need to be careful with simple effects like Terminate or Detention Sphere. Ask yourself, is the power level of these cards enough to justify splashing for? Is terminate really that much better than Doom Blade? Is detention sphere really that much better than Oblivion Ring? They certainly don’t provide unique effects. Often times, a player drafting UB who picked up a terminate early on may just choose to cut it from their final list to keep from having to splash red. If that is happening, I feel the multicolored slot is being wasted.

Early in a draft, multicolored cards advertise the multicolored archetypes that you support
This is important, especially if you support some of the more fringe deck archetypes in your cube. When you include Gelectrode, you’re telling your drafters that spells-matter is totally a thing and ensuring them that if they start drafting it, they will continue to see support for it in later packs. Conversely, you should be avoiding cards that send the wrong kind of message. If you are playing Knight of the Reliquary, you better be supporting some kind of lands-matter archetype.

Later in the draft, multicolored cards reward players for drafting their respective archetypes
If you are knee-deep in RW aggro and you see a white flier, you will probably take it. But if instead you see a UW flier, you are going to pass it up, as it is likely not worth splashing blue for. Because of this, someone else who is drafting UW fliers may be able to pass on it early and expect it to wheel back around to them. This allows them to draft more powerful cards and rewards good drafting decisions. At the same time, when you are committing to an archetype, nothing feels better than seeing a gold card in your colors that supports your strategy.

Throughout the draft, multicolored cards can be used to signal which archetypes are open
Though this is less true at the beginning of drafts, and less helpful at the end of drafts, it is worth mentioning. Seeing a very powerful gold card wheel may just be the incentive needed to convince a drafter to draft another archetype.

Basically, what I’m really saying here is this: Stop playing removal spells, generic efficient beaters, and broadly powerful planeswalkers in your multicolored slots unless you have a *really* good reason to be doing so. The gold cards are supposed to be the fun cards! They’re the cards that tie your archetypes together. They tell your drafters what your cube is about. Nothing says “Draft midrange goodstuff” like generically good gold cards. Disagree? Make your case in the comments, I would love to hear what you think.

Making the Cut

So far, I have spent most of my time on this blog talking about the basics of building a cube from the ground up. I would really start talking about specific archetypes and individual cards, but I wanted start out with the basics. I thought it would be good to build the groundwork of my cubing philosophy so that you, the reader, would have a lens through which to view my opinions. Basically, I want everyone to understand where I am coming from when I talk about the specifics. To do this, there is just one more thing I want to talk about, and it really should come as no surprise.

What makes a card cube worthy?

Now, the answer to that, also unsurprisingly, is “that depends”. No card is an “auto include”. No card is “completely unplayable”. It all depends on the context of the cube that you are building. It wouldn’t really be much of a post if I just said “it depends” though, so let me go over a few things that I try to look at before adding or cutting a card.

Mana Cost – This one might seem obvious, and in some instances it is. Vizzerdrix would be game-breakingly powerful at 2 mana, but at 7 mana he is rarely given the time of day. But beyond simple power level, make sure you are also keeping in mind what archetypes the card is supposed to support. You might want to say that Inferno Titan is a sweet mono red aggro curve-topper, but if your mono red aggro deck is hitting 6 mana regularly, it may need a little more help on the low end instead.

The biggest mistake that I see by far though, is not looking at the colored mana symbols. At a first glance, you might say that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Precinct Captain are both going to be hitting the field on turn 2 and should be evaluated as such. In mono white, this is accurate. In my cube, however, 2-3 color decks are supported and all of my specific archetype support stretches 3 colors rather than 2. Mono white decks are actually pretty rare at my drafts – most at least splash a second color. When you expect the majority of decks to be playing 2+ colors, a card casting WW cannot be reliably cast on turn 2 unless you have really good fixing.

If Precinct Captain only came down on turn 3, effectively costing 1WW, would he be playable? Maybe, maybe not, but it is definitely worth considering. The biggest offender that I think I see the most often is Savage Knuckleblade, believe it or not. You are going to need God-tier mana-fixing to reliably drop that sucker on turn 3, and if it cost 4-5 mana, I would not even think about playing it.

Power/Toughness – Now, this isn’t nearly as important in the really high power cubes, as most people just jam the strongest creatures they can think of. But in mid to lower power cubes, there are a few things that you should be considering. Compared to the other creatures in my cube –

How often will this creature trade up? If it is way stronger than cards of a higher cost in your cube, there may be a discrepancy in power level that needs to be adjusted.

Which creatures can this one fight and survive? If it is meant to be wall for control decks, it better be able to beat the majority of 1-3 drops.

Which burn spells does this creature dodge, and which ones will it fold to? With 1 toughness, red decks can sneeze it over, and if every burn spell is a Lightning Bolt, 4 toughness is basically untouchable.

What kind of clock will this provide? We strive for balance, which means trimming the fat and steering clear of the overpowered nonsense.

Interaction – This one is important and my favorite offender is True-Name Nemesis. TNN is the poster child for non interactive magic and is very rarely a healthy addition to cube. But wait, a 7 turn clock isn’t all that scary. It still dies to wraths and sacrifice effects, what’s the problem? And for people that talk like this, I have just one question: What makes a good game of magic? When you lose a game of magic, what makes you look back and go, “Man, that was a great game?” What makes magic fun? (I know, that was three questions, but they were all basically the same).

I think more often than not, you will find that the most fun games are the ones with a lot of interaction between players. When someone plays creatures and turns them sideways until they win or lose, it’s not going to be much fun for very long. When the combo player goes off on turn 2 and wins on the spot, nobody will be writing home about that one. There needs to be threats and answers. There needs to be meaningful decision making throughout the game. TNN scoffs at this idea. Most decks in cube will have no answer to TNN and because of this, it represents a fairly game-warping force. This is something you want to watch out for and avoid like the plague. This might mean individually powerful cards like TNN or even entire “combo like” archetypes like reanimator or show and tell style decks. You need to keep in mind that cards and strategies can be too powerful for your cube.

These are certainly not all of the things to consider, but definitely the ones that I see most frequently ignored. So what kinds of things do you try to look out for when making cube adjustments? How often do you cut things for being “too powerful”? Leave me a comment and tell me about your process.


It’s time to talk about cube archetypes.

When you’re laying out the groundwork for your cube it is important to think about supporting some archetypes. So let’s talk about which archetypes you should think about supporting, why you might support them, and how you would go about doing that. Keep in mind that all of this is going to be in reference to constructing a generic cube with no theme. Theme trumps all. If you have a mono red cube, you don’t need to listen to anything I say about colors.

So which archetypes are you going to support? Whichever ones you want. That’s the beauty of it. But try to keep a few things in mind. Some archetypes play well with others and some do not. Aristocrats, for example, shares a lot of common cards with stax/sacrifice-matters and tokens and is propped up by all the small creatures that make aggro possible. Storm, on the other hand, might share some cards with a spells-matter archetype, but otherwise needs a critical mass of cards that are only good in storm. Trying to find archetypes that overlap and share supporting cards really helps to make a cohesive drafting environment.

While looking for archetypes that mesh well together, it is also important to note which colors you want to represent them. Even if your hypothetical U/R archetype plays really well with another G/B archetype, they aren’t going to be sharing many cards. When you are supporting strategies, trying to confine them to a specific color identity makes balance much easier. Many cube designers like to assign an archetype to each guild combination, while others (including myself) prefer to work with shards and wedges.

One more thing to consider is power level. Some strategies are just inherently weaker or may not have very many supporting cards, requiring you to include weaker cards to offer enough support. If you include strong, well supported archetypes, you need to be prepared to water them down if you want to include the more fringe archetypes. Balance is key. Nobody will draft tribal leviathans if your prowess archetype is strong, fast, and consistent.

Now we need to make a list of cards to include to support our archetypes. To do this, let’s take a look at 5 categories that your potential includes will fall into:

Too good not to include. These are cards that have a very high power level but don’t support any of your archetypes. These are cards to keep an eye on. Many people will tell you that “X card is a cube staple. X card is too good not to include”. This is untrue. No card is a “must include”. There is nothing wrong with including very powerful cards for the sake of power alone, but do not feel bad about cutting them when they just don’t jive with the rest of your cube. These are also cards that you will want to keep an eye on, as they have the highest likelihood of being too powerful and throwing off the balance of your cube.

Anchor Cards. These are cards that are powerful enough to stand on their own in cube while also synergizing with one or more of your archetypes. These are the heart and soul of your cube. These are cards that you can draft based on power level, but then use to justify drafting other synergistic cards. Usually, you are going to want as many of these as you can get your hands on.

Cross-archetype support cards. These cards might not be strong enough to include in just any cube, but they support multiple of your archetypes and are desperately needed. These make decks actually draft-able, allowing for players to consistently find synergistic support for the decks they are drafting.

Single archetype support cards. These are cards that are not powerful enough on their own, but really shine in the decks that they synergize with. These are the cards that you can pass and be fairly confident that they will wheel back around to you, as they are going to be very valuable to a drafter deep in that archetype, but lackluster to everyone else. These help you fill out archetype support, but be careful not to have too many of these. Too many single archetype support cards will force people to commit to decks early, streamlining the draft and causing many of the same decks to be drafted over and over.

Pet cards. These are cards that are not strong enough by themselves and don’t have enough synergy with your archetypes to justify running them. Maybe you run a card because you really like the art, or maybe it was your favorite card in your first ever standard deck. Whatever your reasoning, it is fine to run a few pet cards in your cube, but own up to it. If you try to tell me that Axebane Stag fits perfectly in your 360 powered cube because he fills out the curve just right, I’m going to laugh in your face. But if you tell me you want it in your cube because it is “Majestic AF”, I can respect that. Be honest with yourself and make sure you can identify which cards are there because they are good for the cube and which cards are there because you really like them. Too many of these makes for a clunky drafting experience, but a couple of them won’t hurt too much.

Last of all, keep in mind why you are doing this. If you are maintaining a cube as a mental exercise that’s one thing. But if you are building a cube to play with your friends and have fun, that’s what is important. If you think True-Name Nemesis is unhealthy for your cube (It almost always is) but your playgroup has a blast every time it hits the table, then maybe you should keep it in. If your playgroup groans every time someone reanimates an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you should consider cutting it for something else.

So what archetypes do you support? Any “must-includes” that you recently cut? Disagree with something I’ve said here? Leave a comment, let me know what you think.