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Cube Design – Microsealed

3:11 p.m. 3:12. I glance anxiously at the clock. He said he’d be here at 3:00. My eyes scan the perimeter of the mostly vacant South Pittsburgh Target parking lot, hoping to spot the outline of a blue Subaru.

3:13

3:14

I’m almost ready to pack it in when he arrives. He’s younger than I expected, a recent high school graduate, looking for some spare cash to fuel his summer festivities. I hand over a Hamilton and a Jackson. He hands me a cardboard box.

“It’s mostly junk, but there’s one card in there that’s worth a lot.”

I drive to my friend Tavis’ house and plop the box on the kitchen table. He’s a long time casual player, but these are the first physical cards to ever enter my possession.

We divide the box in two and set out to making decks to jam against each other. What can we make with this pile? An Elf deck that tops out with [ccProd]Primalcrux[/ccProd]. An Esper artifacts deck headlined by [ccProd]Crawl Space[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Sword of Fire and Ice[/ccProd]. Naya beaters.

Tavis stonewalls me with a [ccProd]Royal Assassin[/ccProd]. I counter with a white vigilance deck. Tavis takes to the skies.

We build and build. We scratch our heads trying to one-up each other. We play deep into the night.

3:15 AM.

It’s time to recapture that feeling.

Microsealed

The basic idea of Microsealed is simple. Each player is given a stack of 90 non-land Cube cards, and the two of you build 15-card decks (15 cards, not 15 spells) to jam against each other. The winner stays and the loser retires the cards from their deck and goes back to their card pool to build a new creation to dethrone the champ.

Before I delve into the rules baggage that lets this format work, let me try and sell the concept. This format is a deckbuilder’s paradise, and pushes your resourcefulness and inventiveness. The decks are small. Nine or ten spells. You can go deep on interactions. Want to build a deck that exploits your new toy [ccProd]Fabled Hero[/ccProd]? Toss in a [ccProd]Noble Hierarch[/ccProd] to pump and ramp to it, [ccProd]Spellskite[/ccProd] to protect it, [ccProd]Rancor[/ccProd] to boost it, and [ccProd]Reckless Charge[/ccProd] for the 20-point [ccProd]Fabled Hero[/ccProd] combo.

Engineer decks that put [ccProd]Karn Liberated[/ccProd] onto the board, or lock the opponent out with an [ccProd]Opposition[/ccProd] tokens build. Flip [ccProd]Delver of Secrets[/ccProd] with [ccProd]Brainstorm[/ccProd] and Jace.

When I taught the format to my brewer friend, he was ecstatic the entire time. “Oh man, this is so much fun.”

On to the rules.

The Rules

Give each player:
• 90 random nonland Cube cards
• 6 copies of each basic land
• The following nonbasic lands:

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.44.49 PM

Any time a player has priority, they may use the following action (as an instant that uses the stack):
“Pay 3 life: Shuffle your graveyard into your library.”

To start, each player builds a deck of exactly 15 cards. Players must present 15-card decks at the start of each game.

After each game, players may sideboard up to three cards from their card pool into their deck. Any nonland cards removed from the deck are retired and cannot be used again.

After a player loses a match, he or she retires all nonland cards from their deck and builds an entirely new deck.

If a player wins two matches in a row, they must retire their deck. Both players then build new decks.

When searching your library (e.g. with [ccProd]Stoneforge Mystic[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Farseek[/ccProd]), players may choose to search either their deck or their collection. If you search your collection, ignore printed shuffle instructions.

You do not lose the game for drawing from an empty library. You simply take no draw step.

The first player to win 4 matches wins.

Rationale

The key mechanic introduced is the ability to pay life for shuffling your graveyard into your library. This allows games to last longer than would normally be expected of a 15-card deck, but also introduces a surprising amount of depth to the experience, and presents an opportunity for savvy players to gain an edge.

After [card lightning bolt]Bolting[/card] the [card birds of paradise]Bird[/card], do you shuffle the Bolt back into your library? Do you shuffle before or after cracking your fetchland? Your opponent casts [ccProd]Terminus[/ccProd] while you have an on-board [ccProd]Carrion Feeder[/ccProd]. Which creatures do you not want to go back into the library? Do you want them on the bottom? Do you shuffle afterwards? Shuffle then sacrifice? How many times are you willing to shuffle with [ccProd]Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/ccProd] in play?

The shuffle brings a very fresh mechanic to the play experience, and I often found myself smiling as I pondered over whether to shuffle or not. Greed and conservatism are constantly in tension.

Next are the lands.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.44.49 PM

These lands are strong, but each have unique downsides. As our end-game relies upon shuffling our graveyard into the library, Evolved Wilds serves to effectively water down our shuffles. We’re drawing more lands in the late game. But perhaps that’s a desired effect. Are we ramping off of [ccProd]Crucible of Worlds[/ccProd]? Casting increasingly large [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd]s? Retriggering [ccProd]Steppe Lynx[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Bloodghast[/ccProd]? By shuffling Evolved Wilds, we can put more lands into play than exist in our deck. Can a 6-land deck have 10 lands in play? Absolutely. (Side note: remember to remove fetched Evolved Wilds basics from your deck at the end of the game.)

On the flip side, Brass Burnwillows doesn’t go to the graveyard and dilute your shuffles, but the life given to your opponent gives them more room to maneuver.

As a result, although you can be extremely greedy in deck construction, there are some very real downsides to overloading on non-basics.

The remaining rules are simply in place to keep everything running smoothly. The tutor (wish) rules allow cards like [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Demonic Tutor[/ccProd] to not be complete duds, and leave the door open to some creative lines.

Interestingly, a bi-product of the format’s small 15-card decks is that the variance in your draws is reduced. Yes, each game between two decks will play out differently, and you can still have good or bad openers. However, games are much less likely to end in mana screw or flood, and are more the product of your deckbuilding and decision making. If you open with a land-heavy hand, you can keep with the knowledge that you’ll be drawing all gas from then on. I hadn’t considered this beforehand, but our playtest sessions had almost none of the “non-games” that you encounter in normal Magic.

Example Playsession

My friend James was in town from London, so we fired up a round of Microsealed before the evening’s 8-man draft. Note that we did not record the land cards used, just the spells. Each deck was exactly 15 cards.

Jason Deck 1: UR Delver

[draft]Delver of Secrets
Brainstorm
Red Sun’s Zenith
Gitaxian Probe
Young Pyromancer
Augur of Bolas
Izzet Charm
Searing Blaze
Fettergeist
Ral Zarek[/draft]

James Deck 1: WRb Aggro

[draft]Goblin Guide
Rakdos Cackler
Jackal Pup
Porcelain Legionnaire
Accorder Paladin
Hellspark Elemental
Hell’s Thunder
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Chain Lightning
Lightning Helix[/draft]

I put together a really fun and punchy spells-matters tempo deck, but unfortunately pure aggro is a natural foil to this type of strategy. The games were close and full of interesting sequencing options, and both games resulted in me tanking while pondering between burning his creatures or burning his face and going for the win. I chose poorly both times and James took the match.

Anticipating more prolonged games to follow, James configured for the end-game while I built my next deck.

Match Record: Jason: 0, James: 1

James’ Sideboarding

Out:

[draft]Rakdos Cackler
Jackal Pup
Accorder Paladin[/draft]

In:

[draft]Umezawa’s Jitte
Figure of Destiny
Student of Warfare[/draft]

Jason Deck 2: WRb Control

[deck]Tragic Slip
Magma Jet
Mizzium Mortars
Boros Reckoner
Blade Splicer
Slagstorm
Flametongue Kavu
Chandra, the Firebrand
Baneslayer Angel[/deck]

I noticed that James’ deck was full of x/1 creatures, including the formidable [ccProd]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/ccProd]. I slotted [ccProd]Tragic Slip[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Chandra, the Firebrand[/ccProd] into my creature-control package and clogged the ground with 3-power first strikers [ccProd]Boros Reckoner[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Blade Splicer[/ccProd]. My deck hit all the right notes and managed to shut James down 2–1.

Match Record: Jason: 1, James: 1

James Deck 2: UB Control

[deck]Bone Shredder
Snuff Out
Go for the Throat
Chainer’s Edict
Bitterblossom
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Dismember
Control Magic
Man-o’-War[/deck]

James went big with a full-blown control build. I took game 1, at which point he realized he had slightly mis-built.

James’ Sideboarding:

Out:

[draft]Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Bitterblossom
Chainer’s Edict[/draft]

In:

[draft]Psionic Blast
Dissipate
Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/draft]

Jason’s Sideboarding:

Out:

[draft]Slagstorm[/draft]

In:

[draft]Mirran Crusader[/draft]

I think I under-sideboarded here, as I should have shifted even further into beatdown. I was still rocking some rather inefficient burn, and James demonstrated the power of exile effects in this format as [ccProd]Dissipate[/ccProd] permanently removed my threats from the game. The games were close, but James managed to claw back to take the match.

Match Record: Jason: 1, James: 2

At this point I was looking to blank James’ “destroy non-black” removal suite with a unique brew, and did so in a big way.

Jason Deck 3: Esper Zombies

[deck]Carrion Feeder
Syncopate
Gravecrawler
Innocent Blood
Dark Confidant
Tidehollow Sculler
Bloodghast
Geist of Saint Traft
Geralf’s Messenger
Vindicate[/deck]

This deck was full of interesting interactions, including sacrificing [ccProd]Tidehollow Sculler[/ccProd] with the trigger on the stack. After game 1, James sided out some of his dead removal cards and brought in [ccProd]Cabal Therapy[/ccProd] for the sweet back-door anti-Geist tech, and took game 2. I took game 3, despite nearly killing myself with [ccProd]Dark Confidant[/ccProd].

Match Record: Jason: 2, James: 2

James Deck 3: WG Midrange

[deck]Deathrite Shaman
Condemn
Wall of Omens
Lone Missionary
Phyrexian Revoker
Oblivion Ring
Kitchen Finks
Obstinate Baloth
Faith’s Fetters[/deck]

James brought to the table a deck that looked great against mine on paper, filled with life gain and ways to exile my creatures. These games were absolute slugfests, filled with tight technical lines and deep trips into the tank.

After game 1 I swapped [ccProd]Syncopate[/ccProd] for [ccProd]Journey to Nowhere[/ccProd], and James made the following changes.

Out:

[draft]Phyrexian Revoker
Faith’s Fetters
Condemn[/draft]

In:

[draft]Path to Exile
Hallowed Burial
Pernicious Deed[/draft]

He gambled on mass removal, but it didn’t pay off. I won a second match with Esper Zombies, and was forced to retire the deck.

Match Record: Jason: 3, James: 2

Back to the drawing board, James and I were both building in the dark. Around this point the Sealed pool starts to thin out and the options feel more constrained. Apparently we both had the same idea. Go over the top!

Jason Deck #3: Golgari Ramp

[deck]Birds of Paradise
Doom Blade
Karn Liberated
Nekrataal
Awakening Zone
Wall of Roots
Shriekmaw
Coalition Relic
Thragtusk[/deck]

James Deck #4: Gruul Ramp

[deck]Arbor Elf
Joraga Treespeaker
Everflowing Chalice
Nest Invader
Crucible of Worlds
Rampaging Baloths
Primal Command
Inferno Titan
Avenger of Zendikar[/deck]

James’ deck harnessed the power of [ccProd]Crucible of Worlds[/ccProd] to hit land drop after land drop, ramping to his finishers then switching into overdrive with landfall triggers for [ccProd]Rampaging Baloth[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Avenger of Zendikar[/ccProd]. Interestingly, [ccProd]Crucible of Worlds[/ccProd] also allowed him to keep lands out of the graveyard while shuffling his library.

James took game 1, and I reconfigured for the ramp mirror.

Jason’s Sideboarding:

Out:

[draft]Wall of Blossoms
Awakening Zone[/draft]

In:

[draft]Inquisition of Kozilek
Engineered Explosives[/draft]

I brought in two cards to interact with the game 1 MVP [ccProd]Crucible of Worlds[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Engineered Explosives[/ccProd] provided latent hate against [ccProd]Everflowing Chalice[/ccProd], mana dorks, and Plant and Beast tokens alike.

Here’s game 2 summarized in a thousand words:

rampMirror

In game 3, James pulled out an unexpected answer to Karn.

[draft]Detention Sphere[/draft]

I dug for my [ccProd]Engineered Explosives[/ccProd], but by the time I found it, I needed to wipe a board of 2/3 Plant tokens. Karn remained unliberated and James took the match.

Match Record: Jason: 3, James: 3

Unfortunately, we had to pack up the Cube and head off to our scheduled 8-man, and didn’t get to resolve our battle royale.

Closing Thoughts

When designing the format, I had intended to build a Cube specifically for playing Microsealed. I was happily surprised to learn that it played well with my existing Cube. I do think that design space is there, if one wanted to further explore the shuffle mechanic and “life as a resource” via the likes of [ccProd]Death’s Shadow[/ccProd] and fateful hour cards.

The rule-set feels functional, and is certainly a joy to play, but I’m sure the cube community can think of improvements or alterations. The format has already undergone a number of iterations via playtesting, and I wouldn’t rule out further modifications.

Lastly, although I haven’t tested it, I’m excited to give Microsealed a try with retail packs the next time we crack a booster box.

Thanks for reading!

Jason’s Cube Site – Riptide Lab

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