Devastation Comes to the Battle Box

A new release means different things to different people. Not everybody is into Magic for the same thing as the next person. The customization the game affords its fans is one of the things that makes Magic truly great and enduring.

For me, my favorite moment in all of spoiler season is when the complete set list is available and I go through the entire spoiler in search of new cards for my Danger Room stack. In fact, I actively try to avoid hearing about or seeing spoilers until the list is complete so that I can indulge in my hour-long trek through the new set in search of new toys.

I believe everybody shares this experience to some extent. If you are a huge Modern fan, for instance, you are going to first approach the spoiler with an eye for exciting new Modern playables, etc. For me, my first love in Magic is my Danger Room/Battle Box stack and I really enjoy imagining which cards will make my gameplay experience more fun and exciting.

What is the Battle Box/Danger Room

Battle Box is a Cube-esque format that I designed a long time ago. The gist of the format is that both players draw cards from a shared deck of pre-selected cards (The Big Deck) that is comprised entirely of various types of spells. The lands are kept separate from the deck. Each player starts with one of each basic land and one of each allied enters-the-battlefield tapped dual land in the exile zone and may play one land per turn.

So essentially both players will always curve out, hitting their first 10 land drops in a row and are capped at 10 lands in play at the same time. My stack does not have any mana denial or mana acceleration—an interesting dynamic that provides both players equal access to mana at all times.

The strength of this format is that it is easy to play. I like to describe it as “Magic: the Board Game,” in the sense that you can sit down, give a friend a stack of 10 lands, and immediately start playing Magic. There is no need to bring your own deck or do a Draft (although you can draft it!) and get right down to business.

If you are new to the format and are interested in reading more about the basics of the format, be sure to check out these archived articles. They give a solid introduction to how the format works. Also, keep in mind that there are variations on the rules that people use and how they choose to design their stacks.

I strongly encourage these kinds of customizations. Half of the fun is creating the kind of games of Magic that you and your friends want to play. Personally, I set the power level standard in such a way that I want the games to feel like two really busted Draft decks going at it, but not as powerful as a Constructed deck. I want the games to have a lot of decisions and back and forth. I want tempo to matter, but provide opportunity for decks to overcome fast draws.

“The Battle Box” and “The Danger Room” is the name of my particular deck. I’ve been working on refining my stack for well over 5 years now and I’m always very excited to add cards from each new expansion to the mix.

My stack always stays at the same number of total cards (which is equally distributed among all the colors, Guilds, wedges, and Shards) which means that whenever I add a card I also have to subtract a card of the same color. Today’s article is about the cards I’m most excited to add to my stack and what I will be cutting to make room for them. I also think that this article would be a great reference material for anybody who is interested in adding to a Limited Cube or a common/uncommon Cube, since these kinds of formats will have a similar power level and gameplay experience to my Battle Box.

Hour of Devastation Adds 15 Cards to the Danger Room

15 cards is nothing to scoff at! In fact, it’s a pretty decent haul from one set.

Let’s take a look at what I’ll be adding and what I hope these additions will accomplish:


“The cat came back, we thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; it just couldn’t stay away.”

Adorned Pouncer is a sweet card. I’m loving some of the new printings that are cheap, efficient creatures that can be bought back later in the game. Trueheart Duelist, from Amonkhet, has performed well. Embalm, and now eternalize, are great mechanics since they are essentially creatures that have flashback.

“Here comes the sun, do do do do
And I say – It’s all right…”

Life gain is such a hard mechanic to balance in a Cube or Danger Room because the effect isn’t always useful. If, for instance, I’m trying to beat my opponent down, I don’t want to draw a card that gains life… oh, the perils of a shared stack.

But cards that are just plain good that have life gain tacked on are great, since they are fine when you don’t need the life but extremely effective when you do. Sunscourge reminds me a lot of Kitchen Finks in this way. Obviously, Finks is a better value, but they don’t make ‘em like Finks anymore!


The Hour of Devastation cuts were the hardest ones I’ve had to make so far. I feel like that means I’ve gotten to a point where I’m really happy with my stack. I cut a couple of low-cost, low-impact creatures from white. The additions are also relatively cheap and add a greater depth of play because of their ability to come back from the graveyard. I’m always interested in maximizing graveyard interactions whenever I can.


Blue is always hard to make room for new cards. In general, the glory days of blue are behind us and I don’t feel like they print blue cards as exciting or efficient as they did in the past. Blue cards either feel like bad versions of cards that already exist (Counterspells or card draw) or are giant over-the-top Dragons or Sphinxes that would unbalance my game.

With that being said, there are a couple of creatures that I’m excited to add to the mix.

A blue mage’s blue card!

I love everything about this card. It filters your draw and provides a body early in the game, and waits in the graveyard to come back as a solid threat and net you a few cards. I’m excited to see this card in action.

A Stifle I can get behind.

One of the tensions of Danger Room is that you can’t include too many cards with narrow applications. I really like cards like this that add a Stifle effect to the deck while providing flexibility. It’s a pretty great card in general that will provide an uncommon effect.


BEB is a great card, but countering red spells isn’t the high life that countering blue spells is. Like I said before, blue is kind of stacked and something had to go. Sift was the worst of the draw spells in the deck and Champion of Wits feels like a better fit than a clunky 4cc sorcery.


Black got some serious new tools:

I have no idea on a scale of 1 to 10 how busted this card is… but I want to find out!

The card is so weird. I think it’s pushing the power level of my stack with such a big body for only 3 mana. With that said, I’m not too shy about trying new things in anticipation of learning something. If it’s too good, I’ll cut it. It seems like a really fun card (assuming it isn’t unbeatable too often).

I choose your poison.

I love flexibility. A Thoughtseize or Edict is sweet. The exile is also excellent. A tailor-made Danger Room card. No-brainer. Slam dunk.


It makes me sad to cut Annihilate because it is an old card I’m fond of, but it was time to go. 5 mana is too much for this effect. Nezumi Graverobber was nice as incidental graveyard hate but it never flipped or became active. It was a flavorful card that never performed as well as I would have liked. Goodbye, old friends.


I’ve tried hard to bolster red. Being that red cards are roughly 1/5 of the stack, it’s hard to get that aggressive flavor of red. I’ve tried to shape its identity in a way that makes it feel like it matters. I want the red cards to feel aggressive but not get outclassed by some of the better defensive cards.

Ding, ding, ding—we have a winner.

If a card has modes, there is a good shot it’s going in. This card is outstanding. I like to have a fair number of Shatter effects in the stack to deal with some of the powerful equipment and artifacts, but I like that effect attached to something else so it isn’t a dead draw when an opponent doesn’t have an artifact in play. Abrade is great at accomplishing this objective.

The angriest of the Khenra.

This is a cool card. It’s unique and does a bunch of things. It was an easy include.


I’m sad to see Shower of Coals go because it is a cool old-card face uncommon, but it was time. The fact is, the card was too obnoxious and ended too many games abruptly. Once you’ve seen the trick a few hundred times it becomes less impressive or interesting.

Shock is Shock. Nobody will miss it. Sorry Shock.


Green is the new blue. The best cards are green. Also, the most fun and interesting cards tend to be green. Unfortunately, Battle Box doesn’t use mana ramp effects and so a lot of the “fun” cards get halted. Fortunately, green has enough goodness to go around.

Look at its majesty…

I have to be careful with powerful bomb creatures because there is a thin line that makes them fun and interesting, or obnoxious to play against. I think this one is a good fit. I also think the art is amazing. It’s the kind of card people like playing with because it is so neat, which makes losing to it forgivable.

The other Khenra I like.

I’m basically willing to give almost any 2-drop creature with embalm or eternalize a chance (provided it doesn’t break my basic rules for the format). I think this card is fun and fair, and I look forward to rumbling with it in the future.


I couldn’t bring myself to cut Uktabi Orangutan, and so Manglehorn got the axe. I’m reasonably happy with the number of Shatter effects and I added Abrade, which is more flexible. Woodreaders is below the power level of the stack now. It’s a fun card, but when you are losing it stands out how weak the effect is for the cost.


A few multicolor cards made the cut as well!

“Sorry I’m not home right now I’m walking into spider webs.”

The Golgari get a new friend. I’m a big fan of Spider creatures since I think they add balance to offensive and defensive struggles. They block well and I want blocking to be a thing.


The card is either pitifully bad or unbeatable. Not ideal for the kind of games I want to play.

The bird is the word!

I think this card is super cool. I love the art. I love the flavor. Finally, a Birds of Paradise I can play in my no ramp format. I like that it is cheap (but respectable) and has an ability that matters later on.


Trygon is a fine card but it always feels like it just dies before it gets to kill the artifact or enchantment you need it to. I’d rather the Disenchant effects happen on resolution of the spell rather than take a turn to happen and be dealt with.

“You can’t eat a stapler…
Wanna ‘split’ it?”

The new split cards are great for the power level I’m into. I like that Consign interacts with the board and generates card advantage later on.


Consult is fine but not flashy. It’s easily one of the weakest cards in the stack. Divination/Mind Rot are below-the-curve effects even when you get to choose which you want to do.

I like that both halves are cheap and impact the board. This should be a fun one to play with since it will really impact the game twice!


Ah, Rats!

The Rats have been a fun card and they will be missed. But the power level has crept up over time and they are simply one of the weaker cards in the stack for the price.

I’m really excited about getting to add some of these cards to my stack and to start playing games with my friends. I’ll be the guy at the prerelease trying to trade for foil River Hoopoe and Obelisk Spider

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday weekend and are having fun using your imaginations about the new cards. Next week I’ll start focusing on Constructed and Limited for the PT. It’s good to take a holiday every once in a while and have some fun. Enjoy the weather because a sandstorm is coming!

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