I learned about Battle Box from Dave Williams around GP Las Vegas 2013. I don’t remember if my first games were at the GP itself, or a few days prior at EFro’s or Dave’s house. Dave didn’t claim to have invented it, only renaming it Battle Box, crediting the creator as Brian Demars who named it Danger Room. I saw he recently wrote an article about it, and was taking credit for inventing it which no one else seems to really be challenging, so I would assume it was his creation. I did see in the comments of his article some people claiming that it is similar to some casual formats that have previously existed. I don’t doubt that to be the case, but ideas are generally not completely new. If you take an existing idea, put in a few innovations, or even just one that vastly improves it, then you deserve the credit. Feel free to think of me as a champion of the format but as far as I know Brian is the creator and Dave independently renamed it Battle Box from Danger Room.

If you follow me on Facebook or are friends with me you have probably heard me complain about powerful Magic cards. I don’t get them and perhaps I never will. Why does anyone find it fun to win a game of Magic with something their opponent couldn’t answer through any set of plays? To me, a game won or lost to a single card that was completely overpowered is just a wasted game. If it’s a tournament, I don’t feel bad—I’m just playing the cards I opened or drafted, or the best cards available in Constructed, and the goal is to win. But I don’t feel proud of myself either. If I beat Kai or Finkel in a game where they could have won through different plays, but I bluffed in some damage I needed, or made plays that made them believe I had something I didn’t, then they played around what I represented, and I won because of that. I feel proud of my victory. If I beat them with cards no set of plays they could have made could have answered, then it might as well have been anyone. I’m not ashamed that I drew way better than they did, but I can’t feel proud of it either. The cards drawn and not the decisions made determined the outcome.

Battle Box for the most part (nothing is perfect) gets rid of these wasted games.

Battle Box creates a scenario where almost every game of Magic is a good game of Magic. Sometimes you will lose, and if the cards had come in a different order you would have won. You still draw a random card every turn. However, if you wanted to play around what your opponent has and increase your chances of winning, you will be able to. Cards are roughly the same power level, and no one ever gets mana screwed or flooded, so the vast majority of games come down to the decisions you make.

Rules

At the start of every game you have a land pile. It has 5 Guildgates and 5 basic lands. The Guildgates need to have the colors evenly distributed—2 of them need to produce black, 2 blue, 2 red, 2 green, 2 white. This gives you the ability to produce 3 of any one kind of mana. These are the only lands you get (though you could probably toss a nonbasic land into the box if you thought it would be particularly interesting, but I haven’t tried that yet).

Every turn you can play 1 land from this separate land pile. This means you are never screwed or flooded, and you have to choose whether to play one of these comes-into-play tapped lands or a regular basic land which comes into play untapped. It’s not the biggest decision in the world and the game revolves around spells, not the ability to cast them (hence no screw or flood), but even this can be fairly strategic as you are playing a 5-color deck with spells that can cost double or even triple of the same color. I purposely put in Leatherback Baloth because I think it puts players in interesting spots when their hand has a lot of double-color, non-green cards and the Baloth.

The spells are a stack of your own design. I find it best to split the stack so that you and the opponent both have your own library. This allows for cool abilities like fateseal and scry to be played the way they were designed. Cards like Impulse are fine and actively good for the game, but I don’t include cards like Worldly Tutor because the stack of cards can be quite big, and searching and shuffling your library becomes burdensome.

I like to start with 4 cards in hand, while I believe Demars created it with the starting hand size of 6, and otherwise the format follows the regular rules of Magic. You draw 1 new card every turn, just like in a normal game. One land a turn, and you have many options since your first 4 cards and every card you draw from there on is a spell. That results in no mana screw, no mana flood, and lots of awesome games. I once played William Jensen a single game that last around an hour and a half (and we are both pretty quick players), and on the final turn he had me at 1 life dead the following turn and I drew a Counterspell to stop the instant he had saved or drawn that was going to keep him alive to kill me, and was able to attack for the win.

Everyone has different power levels in their Battle Boxes. Mine is unsurprisingly low. I think Magic is at its best when you can tap out without worrying about your opponent using a card to draw 4 cards or make you discard your entire hand. I avoided anything that would provide 3 plus cards without anything your opponent can do about it. I add the last part because there are plenty of symmetrical wrath effects—if you get blown out by one of those, it’s your own fault. And that’s really the point here. If you think your opponent is holding back and can put him on a wrath, now you can gain an advantage by attacking and not overcommiting because it’s not like he has Sphinx’s Revelation and will win anyway. If he doesn’t have the wrath though and does have some slightly more expensive, more powerful spells you may have hurt your chances of winning by holding back. Welcome to playing real Magic, where your decisions matter.

When deciding what to include in my Battle Box, that’s what I wanted. I wanted an environment where you can freely tap your mana without fear of outright losing the game, where the power level of the cards is around even, and where the cards are decision-intensive. I also like to have little creatures to get the pressure going. Wild Nacatl is one of my favorites. You don’t want 1-drops that are completely dead in the late game, since you almost always get there. But his drawback of forcing you to play basic Forest, basic Mountain, basic Plains over the first 3 turns can be quite large since you are playing a 5-color deck with double-blue and double-black spells in it. So most of the spells and creatures are meant to be interesting and get the action going or give you and the opponent options. For example, one of the most controversial cards in my Battle Box has been Undead Gladiator. Some say he is too good and he indeed is quite powerful, but everyone draws a spell every turn. He gives you choices. Do I play this mediocre spell I’ve drawn (and most are), or do I cycle it through him and take the chance of getting something worse?

My List

If you find a card to be more powerful than interesting, you should almost certainly cut it. The beauty of the Box and one of my motivations for writing this article was hoping to get some great suggestions on new cards to add to my Box and cards that might be too powerful that I should cut. It’s been my favorite format of Magic to play and I hope you enjoy it as well, here’s my current list:

1 x Oblivion Ring1 x Aven Riftwatcher1 x Wall of Omens1 x Summoner’s Bane1 x Divination1 x Gryff Vanguard1 x Negate1 x Disfigure1 x Duress1 x Erdwal Ripper1 x Qasali Pridemage1 x Wolfbitten Captive // Krallenhorde Killer1 x Oculus1 x Thoughtseize1 x Blind Hunter1 x Mystic Snake1 x Leatherback Baloth1 x Spellskite1 x Scryb Ranger1 x Arc Trail1 x Arctic Aven1 x Cackling Counterpart1 x Pestermite1 x Barter in Blood1 x Undead Gladiator1 x Break Asunder1 x Shambleshark1 x Putrid Leech1 x Kederekt Creeper1 x Lightning Bolt1 x Wild Mongrel1 x Sea Gate Oracle1 x Baloth Cage Trap1 x Pitfall Trap1 x Devour Flesh1 x Naya Charm1 x Drag Down1 x Centaur Healer1 x Elvish Visionary1 x Grixis Sojourners1 x Xathrid Necromancer1 x Fire // Ice1 x Smokespew Invoker1 x Staggershock1 x Eyes in the Skies1 x Remand1 x Ulvenwald Bear1 x Castigate1 x Peace Strider1 x Bone to Ash1 x Read the Bones1 x Pierce Strider1 x Ith, High Arcanist1 x Overgrown Battlement1 x Sejiri Merfolk1 x Soul Manipulation1 x Peel from Reality1 x Ghor-Clan Rampager1 x Sanctum Gargoyle1 x Pith Driller1 x Think Twice1 x Farbog Boneflinger1 x Gatekeeper of Malakir1 x Ravenous Rats1 x Rift Bolt1 x Bant Sojourners1 x Flinthoof Boar1 x Elgaud Inquisitor1 x Black Sun’s Zenith1 x Stonewood Invoker1 x Sign in Blood1 x Naturalize1 x Grim Lavamancer1 x Boulderfall1 x Misdirection1 x Jund Sojourners1 x Solar Blast1 x Flamewave Invoker1 x Mist Raven1 x Pyknite1 x Recollect1 x Coiling Oracle1 x Slaughterhorn1 x Steamcore Weird1 x Mistblade Shinobi1 x Savage Twister1 x Withdraw1 x Clear1 x Gruesome Discovery1 x Dismember1 x Putrefy1 x Rot Wolf1 x Wall of Roots1 x Tumble Magnet1 x Arrow Volley Trap1 x Lightning Helix1 x Faith’s Fetters1 x Nylea’s Disciple1 x Journey to Nowhere1 x Mortis Dogs1 x Disciple of Phenax1 x Sickleslicer1 x Briarpack Alpha1 x Complicate1 x Gang of Devils1 x Submerge1 x Suture Priest1 x Kird Ape1 x Architects of Will1 x Augur of Bolas1 x Time to Feed1 x Noxious Hatchling1 x Simian Grunts1 x Angel of Mercy1 x Lavafume Invoker1 x Rhox War Monk1 x Firebolt1 x Sunfire Balm1 x Executioner’s Capsule1 x Absorb
1 x Undermine1 x Ember Hauler1 x Slagstorm1 x Voice of the Provinces1 x Purge the Profane1 x Repulse1 x Condemn1 x Tragic Slip1 x Wildheart Invoker1 x Vapor Snag1 x Griptide1 x Skinwing1 x Wild Nacatl1 x Forbidden Alchemy1 x Into the Void1 x Desperate Ravings1 x Doom Blade1 x Starlight Invoker1 x Loam Lion1 x Izzet Charm1 x Zealous Persecution1 x Carven Caryatid1 x Capsize1 x Terminate1 x Volt Charge1 x Spike Feeder1 x Whispers of the Muse1 x Contagion Clasp1 x Stormbound Geist1 x Primal Boost1 x Mana Leak1 x Origin Spellbomb1 x Loyal Cathar // Unhallowed Cathar1 x Sever the Bloodline1 x Fires of Undeath1 x Withered Wretch1 x Plaxmanta1 x Kavu Titan1 x Psionic Blast1 x Oust1 x Call of the Conclave1 x Spiketail Hatchling1 x Mortify1 x Cremate1 x Pillory of the Sleepless1 x Belligerent Hatchling1 x Morbid Plunder1 x Bloodrite Invoker1 x Phyrexian Rager1 x Slice and Dice1 x Aven Cloudchaser1 x Essence Scatter1 x Court Hussar1 x Spell Pierce1 x Blightning1 x Shrewd Hatchling1 x Perilous Myr1 x Glint Hawk Idol1 x Aven Fisher1 x Disrupting Shoal1 x Bant Charm1 x Griffin Guide1 x Brainbite1 x Go for the Throat1 x Pyrite Spellbomb1 x Deadshot Minotaur1 x Tower Geist1 x Dissipate1 x Blightwidow1 x Boros Charm1 x Serrated Arrows1 x Ninja of the Deep Hours1 x Murderous Redcap1 x Crypt Ghast1 x Loxodon Gatekeeper1 x Plated Geopede1 x Thirst for Knowledge1 x Horizon Scholar1 x Kor Skyfisher1 x Burst Lightning1 x Fleshbag Marauder1 x Fiend Hunter1 x Plague Myr1 x River Boa1 x Courier’s Capsule1 x Leafcrown Dryad1 x Kitchen Finks1 x Saving Grasp1 x Sprouting Thrinax1 x Izzet Chronarch1 x Vampire Nighthawk1 x Citanul Woodreaders1 x Tribute to Hunger1 x Jund Charm1 x Bloodghast1 x Tree of Redemption1 x Dawnglare Invoker1 x Dimir Doppelganger1 x Watchwolf1 x Naya Sojourners1 x Telling Time1 x Annul1 x Death Pulse1 x Mortarpod1 x Impulse1 x Deceiver Exarch1 x Scrap1 x Inquisitor Exarch1 x Char1 x Shelter1 x Recover1 x Delay1 x Damnation1 x Dispel1 x Final Judgment1 x Seshiro the Anointed1 x Gloomwidow1 x Wild Hunger1 x Boggart Ram-Gang