I have gotten a lot of feedback asking for Battle Box/Danger Room related content since I started writing for ChannelFireball, so I figured it was time to finally comply.
For those of you haven’t gotten a chance to experience the format firsthand, I strongly recommend giving it a try. Battle Box/Danger Room is my absolute favorite way to play Magic, period.
I may be a bit biased (seeing as I invented the format), but the format has grown in popularity over the past few years, particularly in the Pro community. I came up with the format years ago and called it “The Danger Room” (BEFORE Hearthstone, mind you) as a way to sit down and play some Magic right out of the box.
I introduced the format to David Williams back at Gen Con several years back and he in turn introduced it to Ben Stark and other Pro players. They started calling it by the more common name “Battle Box.” I had to concede since people more commonly call it “Battle Box,” but I still call my particular stack “The Danger Room,” i.e., the first and original Battle Box!
I called the format The Danger Room after the training program from X-Men because I viewed it as a way to practice playing Magic in the abstract. How do you make plays in close games? How do you evaluate what is important when you have a different matchup everytime? Who is the beatdown? Etc.
The format is simple enough: each player starts with 10 lands (one of each basic and one of each Allied comes into play tapped dual land) outside the game and may play 1 land per turn.
Each player draws cards from a shared deck of preselected cards that sits in the middle of the table. There are no lands, no mana acceleration, no land destruction, and no tutors or library manipulation spells in the center deck (I call this the “big stack,” as most Battle Box decks range between 200-1000 cards). Essentially, each player gets perfect mana (10 land drops in a row) and draws a random spell every turn, which eliminates both “mana screw” and “mana flood” from the play experience.
The starting hand size for my stack is 6 cards and the maximum hand size is 9 cards. Different stacks sometimes use different rules. I’ve heard that Ben Stark’s stack uses a starting hand size of 5 cards.
The “big stack” in the center is largely customizable and depending on which cards you put in the deck, it largely impacts the kind of games that your Battle Box provides you and your friends. In my “Danger Room,” for instance, I put a lot of effort into trying to create a highly interactive, balanced, and interesting game of Magic. I aim to have most of my cards at a similar power-level-to-casting-cost ratio.
My goal is that I want most of my cards to feel like solid draft “1st picks” without having ridiculous cards that dominate draft games, like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Umezawa’s Jitte, or Bitterblossom. I don’t want cards that end the game if they don’t get countered or killed immediately.
I’ve said that 25% of games end to mana screw, 25% of games end to mana flood, 25% of games end to an unanswered bomb, and the other 25% of games are the reason you play Magic in the first place! Those numbers may not be 100% accurate (as it is a commonly believed fact that 65% of statistics are made up on the fly), but you get the picture—the Battle Box experience (and my Danger Room stack in particular) aims to create those fun, interactive games nearly every time.
You don’t even need a fancy stack to play this format. If you are unfamiliar and looking to give the format a try, you can pick up a stack of draft cast-offs, find 5 basics and 5 Guildgates, and start playing with a friend. As you go, throw out the cards that you agree either stink or are too good, and keep adding to the stack. It is a great game to have in your backpack and is a fun way to spend time between rounds at a tournament!
But if you are like me and want a super fancy, well balanced stack, you may be interested to read on about my Danger Room list. I’ve also updated the list to include cards from the latest MTG release: Shadows over Innistrad.
The Danger Room
One of the things I’ve worked really hard to do is to make my list as balanced as possible in every way. I have an equal numbers of cards of each color in the stack because I didn’t want the mana to be skewed more heavily toward 1 color or another.
There are 65 mono-colored cards of each color, ten 2-color guild cards of each combination, 3 tri-color Shard/wedge cards of each combination, 30 colorless artifacts, and 1 5C Fusion Elemental.
325x Mono Color Spells
+ 100x Two Color Guild Spells
+ 30x Tri-Color Shard/Wedge Spells
+ 30x Colorless/Artifacts
+ 1 Fusion Elemental
486 Total cards.
I never go beyond this total number. When I want to add a new card to the Danger Room, I cut a card of the same color or color combination to ensure things stay balanced.
Here is my stack, with a short explanation of the Shadows over Innistrad cards I’ve added:
Declaration in Stone is the lone white card from Shadows over Innistrad to make it into the Danger Room. The card is great. Flexible removal that is this good is hard to come by. Yes, they get a Clue when you kill their creature but since you are drawing a spell every turn it is pretty balanced. It is also going to be great as a way to mop up multiple tokens of the same type: Birds from Ordered Migration or Spirits from EVERYTHING.
Epiphany at the Drownyard is another great blue card advantage spell. I love the way that it requires both players to make decisions (which is great for a format like Danger Room). I also love the way it puts cards into your hand and graveyard, which is always fun and interesting. I try to play with a critical mass of cards that matter in multiple zones and ways to enable them. I want gameplay as diverse as possible for my stack.
Madness in Just the Wind is a great mechanic in a format like this. I tend to max out on “looter” effects because they are fun and interesting. I’m excited to add this flexible utility spell into the mix!
Ongoing Investigation—what a bizarre card! I absolutely wanted to add some number of cards that add Clues to the stack and this one seems pretty sweet. I love the built-in life gain ability as well.
Ellusive Tormentor is a really cool card that I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play more with in the Danger Room. The fact that it can protect itself from removal spells and slowly grind back on the the board is really neat. I love the flavor of a Vampire that can vanish into mist and then suddenly reappear in battle later on.
Dance with Devils—I love when they print cool red cards that aren’t just random burn spells. To be fair, there have been quite a few of them to see print lately. I love everything about the card. The instant speed, the tokens, and the ability on the tokens. Plus, I get to add Devil tokens to my stack of tokens.
Dark Confidant is terrible in Danger Room because there are no 0-cost cards and Bob just kills you. Prodder is the opposite—if your opponent doesn’t let you draw cards, it will always deal damage to them. It’s a cool 3-drop that I’m excited to play with.
Inexorable Blob is probably the card I’m most excited to add to the stack. You may have noticed that I’m a fan of random Oozes and Slimes. Must be all of the Ghostbusters I watched as a child… who am I kidding, I still love Ghostbusters! One day, I’m going to build an Ooze-and-Slime-themed Commander deck to go along with my Slivers and Insects.
Most of the Werewolf cards are not very good because everybody draws a spell every turn, which makes flipping them almost impossible. But I like that Lambholt Pacifist is a steady blocker in the early game that will gain value as the game progresses. I’m willing to try it out.
Ulvenwald Mysteries is such a bizarre card. But it seems tailor-made for a format like Danger Room. It grinds out slow advantage and makes tokens. I love the flavor of the card. Every time a creature dies, the murder leaves behind a Clue and whenever you cash in a Clue, you get more people to help you search for the murderer! Awesome.
The Danger is Real
For those of you who are already a fan of the Battle Box format, I hope that you enjoyed checking out my Danger Room stack and reading about which cards I personally play with and which spells I’m looking forward to adding to the stack. I spend a lot of time and energy (as any good Cube owner obviously understands) into trying to create an awesome experience for my friends.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to Battle Box yet, I strongly recommend throwing one together and jamming some games. Even a random stack of draft chaff can lead to some extremely fun and interesting games of Battle Box. All things considered, it is playing Magic with equal access to mana production at every phase of the game, which is very interesting. It is how I imagine Magic was meant to be played before everybody figured out that out-mana’ing and being more mana-efficient than the opponent is one of the most potent ways to gain advantage in competitive Magic.
In this format, both players have equal access to mana and cards of a similar power level, and so you and your opponent both get to play highly interactive and interesting games of Magic. It is truly a format for individuals who enjoy playing the game.