The release of a new set is my favorite time to play Magic.
Perhaps the most important innovation that Magic brought the gaming world is the idea that the rules of the game largely remain the same over time, but new releases constantly change the playing field.
Another aspect of Magic that helps to keep the game fresh and exciting is that there are manifold ways to play it. There are different formats with different rules for play and/or deck construction: 1994 Old School, Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, Emperor, Draft, Sealed, Cube, Commander, and my personal favorite, Battle Box—just to name a few!
What is Battle Box?
Battle Box is a format that I came up with many years ago and the basic rules of the format can be found here.
The basic premise of the format is that it is an “ready to play out of the box” format where any number of players can sit down and play without the need to build decks or draft.
There is a large stack of shared cards that make up a shared library from which all the players draw. Each player also starts the game with 10 lands (one of each basic and one of each allied enters-the-battlefield tapped land) in the exile zone and may play one land per turn.
The large shared stack of cards does not include land, which means that players only draw spells and hit their first 10 land drops for free.
I do not include mana acceleration or land destruction in my spells, which ensures that each player has equal access to mana at all points in the game. I essentially created a gameplay experience that removes mana screw and mana flood from the equation and allows players to simply battle some good, fun, and evenly matched games of Magic!
I highly recommend that players choose whatever cards they enjoy playing with the most and tailor their stack to reflect exactly the gameplay their group most enjoys. If you think a card stinks, cut it. If you think a card is OP, cut it. If you think a card seems sweet, give it a shot!
The DeMars Danger Room Experience
When I initially came up with the format, I called it “The Danger Room” after the hologram training program from X-Men. It was sort of a fun tool for practicing playing Magic in the abstract.
I showed the format to David Williams at GenCon several years ago and he introduced it to some of his friends. Ben Stark started calling it The Battle Box and the rest is history.
I still call my stack “The Danger Room” and I take a lot of pride in the fact that it is the original, very first Battle Box ever created!
My stack reflects the kind of games that my friends and I enjoy playing. The power level has crept up over time so as to incorporate more and more exciting and fun cards.
You can build it however you find most fun, but my list is at the very least a guide for getting started. I cannot stress enough—play with what you enjoy! I also have an Old School 1994 themed Battle Box that I’ve been tuning and working on over the past few weeks that includes only cards through Ice Age that is a blast. Play with what you enjoy.
Today’s article will feature the cards from Ixalan that I’m officially adding to my Danger Room stack, along with a little bit of analysis about why I think the card will be sweet. By all means, use this as a guide for choosing cards for Battle Box, or Cube, or whatever.
My stack stays at a set number of cards, which means that anytime I choose to add a card I also have to cut a card. I do this to keep the power level even for the best possible gameplay. Ideally, I’m always cutting a card that feels either too weak or too strong in lieu of a card that feels like a better and more evenly powered fit for the stack.
I like fun cards in here. I like interesting cards in here. I like cards that don’t always have a home in Constructed formats but that I think are sweet.
What Does Ixalan Bring?
A lot of people have been a little bit upset that Ixalan doesn’t appear to offer a ton to Constructed formats. I’m not sure this will turn out to be true in the long run, but the set is certainly stacked with awesome Limited and Battle Box cards!
Lucky for me! The hardest part is going to be finding enough cards to cut in order to add all these epic new creatures and spells.
Let’s jump right in.
There were no artifacts that I wanted to add so let’s move straight to white.
White is a Dino color, which means that it is going to have some goodies. But there are also some really great non-Dinosaur cards as well:
The Vanguard is a strong, aggressive 2-drop, which is important in the Danger Room. I don’t want every game to be a one-sided beatdown, but there are sufficient powerful midrange spells to stunt a lot of aggressive starts. I think Vanguard is a great addition because it is resilient and aggressive.
Here I’m swapping a good card for another good card. I think Sunwing is just more interesting than the Paladin. Maybe that’s because it’s new. But I’m going to always give the nod to a Dinosaur in a closely contested spot! The card is just amazing and a lot of fun to play with. It has a big impact but is reasonable to deal with.
Territorial Hammerskull is an aggressive creature that plays well in games of Limited. Renewed Faith is one that I’m sad to cut, but that has simply been power creeped out of the stack. It wasn’t good in Amonkhet Limited, and the power level here is much higher.
These are similar cards in a lot of ways. They are midrange card advantage tools. The Mage is awkward sometimes, and it feels bad when for all your effort you don’t have a good target to blink. The Bishop feels a bit more straightforward in this spot.
Aerosaur is another good beatdown card and a Dinosaur. I’ve always been a fan of cards like Welkin Guide, but this is finally a version of that card that feels at about the correct power level to make the cut here. I’ve also thought the stack was maybe a couple of “Shatter” effects heavy, and so this looks like a nice place to shave one.
Blue is probably the weakest color for Danger Room this time around. A big part of the reason is that a lot of the blue cards make Treasure tokens, and I’m pretty strict about not allowing any mana advantage in my stack.
Obviously, other players don’t need to adhere to these rules, but I do.
Chart a Course seems like a sweet, cheap card advantage spell that fits right in. Seeing as how I don’t play Char in red and the blue spots are tighter than the red ones, it makes sense to cut Psionic Blast. It’s a sweet nostalgia card, but not really up to snuff anymore.
I like the swap out here. Persuasion feels like another Control Magic whereas Entrancing Melody is interesting and different. I like how it scales in cost depending on the cost of the creature. A little diversity is always a good thing.
Black doesn’t have a ton of great cards that I’m excited to add, but I’m pretty stoked about Skulduggery.
Grim Haruspex has always been good but not great. It doesn’t do a lot, whereas Skulduggery is just an awesome combat trick. I’m trying to find more room for combat tricks and this one is a perfect fit.
I’ve complained that red feels one-dimensional in Battle Box. Most of the good red cards are just burn spells and uninteresting creatures. Ixalan Dinosaurs really add something to the stack:
I have no doubt that Charging Monstrosaur will be one of the more powerful cards, which is cool because I want the Dinos to be a notable facet of my stack. The Hound was sort of a “I want to have some midrange red creatures in here” pick and the Dinos make it easy to upgrade and replace.
No doubt that BSA is one of the objectively more powerful cards in the Battle Box. It has a huge impact on the game and is a devastating play. Something has to be the best and I don’t mind having a card like this as one of the most high impact plays.
I think this is just a strict upgrade that takes one of the weaker cards in the stack (Phoenix) and replaces it with something closer to the standard deviation power level. Plus, Dino bonus!
Rowdy Crew is another sweet red card that has some individuality and fun play to it. Abbot was kind of a dud and often awkward to play with. It misses a lot. I think the Hound will be a pretty fun creature when the dust settles. I mean, who doesn’t love some rowdy Pirates?
Green also has some sicko Dinosaurs to add to the stack. Let’s start with the non-Dino:
I’m not giving up much to cut the Boon Satyr, which has tended to be kind of an awkward card. There are some seriously important 1/1s and Archer is a nice little utility card.
Cutting a Dinosaur for a Dinosaur? I think the Scavenger is a nice add. They provide good stats and utility alongside some graveyard hate that is usefully incidental. I think this is just an all-around good card that has a lot of play to it, which makes it a nice addition. There just are not enough good morph cards to support a morph synergy card like Deathmist. The card is fine, but something had to go.
Ripjaw Raptor is another objectively good Magic card. It has great stats and an impactful ability. Storm Seeker is iconic but doesn’t really do a whole lot in most games (just goes to the dome). I don’t mind having powerful Dinosaurs in the stack because they are so unique and flavorful.
I’m always hesitant to put in gigantic monsters with flashy abilities, but it’s a Dinosaur and so I’m going to give it a shot. I think this card is probably very reasonable and that the cost and ability even out to be a good play for the Danger Room.
Not Doing It
If you are thinking I’m pushing the envelope with Dinosaur power cards, I did draw the line at Carnage Tyrant. I don’t think this card would be fun to play against and so I left it out. I love Dinos but there is a limit to my love, to quote the Bee Gees and Feist.
There are also a few nice multicolor cards I’d like to include from Ixalan.
There is nothing specifically wrong with Consign besides the fact that it is much less sweet than Hostage Taker. The Hostage Taker feels very much like a Danger Room card and has awesome flavor. It is a card that I imagine my friends and I will enjoy casting and making Pirate jokes with for a long time!
Shapers have good size for their cost and an ability to sink your extra mana into. It’s sort of the perfect power level for my stack, which is why it is now in!
Sky Terror is a perfect 2-drop for the stack. Good stats and abilities. Spitemare was the weakest Boros card in the stack and so it got the boot. Spitemare has been a good pony for me over the years, but power creep is real.
It worked out well that there was a good Gruul card in the set, because I felt the 10th Gruul spot was really lacking. Not so much anymore! If anything, I could see Alpha being a little bit too good for the stack.
I’ll have to keep an eye on how the games play out before I decide whether or not the Alpha will survive the next set’s cuts.
The cool thing about a format like this is that you can try out new things. If Alpha is too busted I just swap it for something else. I know that Broodmate was too good before (it had a ridiculous conversion rate at winning games of Danger Room)—a big part of that was the flying. I’ll have to see how Alpha stacks up.
My Top 5 Favorite Danger Room Adds From Ixalan
Red and white appear to have gotten the best of the goodies from Ixalan. But, oh that Hostage Taker! Wow.
Below is my completely updated list for those who are interested in checking it out and playing with my updates.
I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these foils. The Dinos are really impressive and fun Magic cards to play with. Dinosaurs will never go extinct as long as my Danger Room stays sleeved up!
DeMars Danger Room/Sorted Card List
Mask of Memory
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Angel of Finality
Angel of Sanctions
Bishop of Rebirth
Day of Judgment
Declaration in Stone
Dusk // Dawn
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Mother of Runes
Soldier of the Pantheon
Soulfire Grand Master
Spear of Heliod
Soldier of the Pantheon
Soulfire Grand Master
Spear of Heliod
Swords to Plowshares
Territorial Hammer Skull
Wall of Omens
Wrath of God
Champion of Wits
Chart a course
Delver of Secrets
Fact or Fiction
Lu Xun, Scholar General
Old Man of the Sea
Scour the Laboratory*
Sun Ce, Young Conqueror
Bane of the Living
Big Game Hunter
Dance of the Dead
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Go for the Throat
Gonti, Lord of Luxury*
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lay Bare the Heart
Ritual of the Machine
Sever the Bloodline
Stir the Sands
Transgress the Mind
Burning Sun’s Avatar
Feldon, of the Third Path
Flames of the Firebrand
Krenko, Mob Boss
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Pillar of Flame
Red Elemental Blast
Slice and Dice
Temur Battle Rage
Call of the Herd
Caller of the Claw
Gnaw to the Bone
Master of the Wild Hunt
Polukranos, World Eater
Thrill of the Hunt
Verdant Sun’s Avatar
Wall of Blossoms