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A Boy and His Box: Closing the Box


All good things must come to an end. Today we close the Commander Battle Box. I know, it sounds kind of depressing right? Don't worry, we're not lighting the thing on fire! We're just closing it. Maybe we'll open it back up for the Amonkhet release, or perhaps, I'll have an awesome design breakthrough to share with you. Time will tell. At least we have this article, before we close the box. Today, I’m going to focus on questions that people asked along the way, or that I didn't get to talk about in the series. It’s going to be a bit like a “mail bag” article. Let's dive in, shall we?

Is it possible to support a +1/+1 counter theme in the Commander Battle Box?

You can support almost any theme in the Battle Box. The only exception might be Tribal, which seems too narrow to support. When you’re trying to support a theme in the Battle Box, one of the keys to success is to use good stand-alone cards that can also develop your theme. This is why Tribal is difficult to support, because most Tribal cards are typically over-costed and designed primarily to play with other Tribal cards. In the case of +1/+1 counters, you might notice that I’ve already added some “plants” in this category:

This list is not all the +1/+1 counter cards in the box, but these cards let you do more interesting things with the counters. Things like, push commander damage, make tokens, generate mana, and deal damage.If +1/+1 counters only make creatures bigger, then gameplay for these cards can become boring. I like to spice things up a bit, and give the theme depth by adding cards like this. The list above is a good start, but to fully support this theme you need more cards.

I could probably write a whole article in this topic (I almost did just now), but instead I'm going to leave you with 50 cards that you should consider adding to the box to fully support a +1/+1 counter theme. I'll also encourage you to do some gatherer work for mechanics that work with +1/+1 counters, like Graft, or Proliferate. You may find some Gems that I missed. The cards listed below are like the list above, they do things with +1/+1 counters like, draw cards, deal damage, and even take extra turns!

How are the Commanders for the Battle Box chosen?

Commanders have the unique ability to provide a “constant” in the ever-evolving format of Battle Box. This means that no matter what cards you draw, you can be sure of one thing; access to your Commander. Because of this, I use the Commander slot to support a certain playstyles. You can see this in my choices to have Zedruu the Greathearted, and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic — these Commanders support a slow controlling playstyle. Now, contrast those choices with aggressive choices like Saskia the Unyielding, or Zurgo Helmsmasher — these offer aggressive players something that fit’s their playstyle. Your choice of Commanders is essential in shaping the environment, they play a similar role in theme building and support.

My current build of the Battle Box does not support every theme in Magic, nor should it. As I noted in my lengthy answer above, it does not fully support the +1/+1 counter theme. It also does not support a “Lock-Out” theme, but if I wanted to support a new theme like this (or any other theme), I’d start with changes to the Commander Pool. For example, I would probably add Commanders like, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, or Lorthos, the Tidemaker — which I think would be surprisingly playable, since he can’t cost more than eleven due to the Battle Box rules. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here by making the same point about playstyles and themes — you could also toss “archetypes” into this nebulous pile of words — but you get the point. When supporting any of these elements, be sure to make sure you have Commanders that also support them.

In building your own box, you might pick different elements to highlight, or different Commanders to embody the same elements that I’ve picked. This is a good thing. Sometimes, I’ll add a Command simply because I like the card, or I want to try it out. You should do the same. I don’t want to lose this spirit of exploration with a bunch of design rules, or worries about what is supported and what is not. This leads us nicely into our next questions, segue man — Take it away!

What things should I consider when making my own Commander Battle Box?

I think every Battle Box should start with a pile of cards that you like to play. I'll call this the "heart" of your box. Forget about copying a list, or playing what is "optimal." Start with every card you like to play in the format- gather all your pets and put them in a pile!

I recently sat down with a friend of mine to help him build a Battle Box. As we were digging through his piles of cards, he kept asking things like "Is this good for Battle Box?" or "Should I run this?" I appreciate his respect for my opinion, but as I said above, it's important not to get caught up in the idea that there is some "optimal" build. This kind of thinking is flawed because every box is different, and every card's "goodness" is relative to the other cards available in the box. For example, how good is Unburial Rites in a 1-drop cube? Well it’s banned, but hypothetically speaking, it’s not very good. You would be reanimating a one-mana creature for five mana! Now you can see how the viability of the cards changes if it’s in an environment with creatures that cost more than five.

After you get your pile made, think about all the elements that you’re supporting in the pile. Also, think about what other elements you want to support. I recommend you pick playstyles and archetypes that play well against each other. Now comes the fun part. Once you get those things fleshed out, or as you get those things fleshed out, start adding cards. After you’re happy with the amount of cards on the list, the final step is to trim it down for color balance and playability. Too much of one color can be problematic, so if you have a large imbalance in colors, try to get them closer. They don’t need to be exact, unless you’re really picky like me. You'll also have to cut some of your pet cards. For example, if one of your pet cards is Tendrils of Agony, but you don't have enough to support storm, you'll have to cut it.

Keep in mind, a Battle Box is always work in progress. Your first draft is not your final draft. Don't be afraid to cut or add stuff, you can always reverse your changes later. One of the best tools for logging these changes and tuning your box is the cubetutor.com website. If I can leave you with one piece of practical advice, it would be to use Cube Tutor. Not only does it log all of your changes, you can also tag anything in the box. In the past, when working on a project like this, I would lay the cards out on the table. Cube Tutor allows you to do this with the "Visual Spoiler" option. From the spoiler, you can filter by any attribute or tag. Do you want to see how many creatures under three mana you have? No problem! I could go on, but hopefully this paragraph is enough of an endorsement for you to sign up (for free), and put your new battle box up on it. Once you do that, you should leave a link in the comments, or tweet it at me @MedinaMakesGame.

Is it possible to make the Commander Battle Box less than 300 cards?

It's not unreasonable to want a smaller Battle Box. The more portable it is, the easier it is to take it to tournaments, and carry with you. The dream is to fit one of these in a Fat Pack box . . .  err, I mean "Bundle” box. I did some science on my end and a Fat Pack fits 264 double sleeved cards and 5 dividers. The question now is how do we squeeze a 500+ card Battle Box into a Fat Pack 1 ?

The first thing we have to keep in mind is that we need: four land sets (44 cards), Signets (10 cards), Commanders (10), and Utility Lands (10). I reduced the Commander, and Utility Land count to 10 each, but I could see going down to eight each. We're looking at 74 cards for the pregame selection cards, so that would leave us space for 190 other cards.

My advice is to really hone in on the environment that you want to create. Keep your supported elements to a minimum. Pick Commanders that strongly support these elements. It's best to pick themes that overlap so that cards can serve double duty. For example, you could support a Graveyard strategy, and a Flashback Storm strategy. These two archetypes have overlap in cards like Faithless Looting, or Forbidden Alchemy. You can do similar things with Voltron. If you go with Equipment Voltron support, you can also run an "Artifacts Matter" theme alongside it. On the other side of the coin, you can support Enchantment Voltron, and this can be paired with the Enchantress Prison archetype. The harder you work at finding these overlaps and tuning your supported elements, the tighter your list will be.

Keep in mind that lowering the card count will also lower the variety of play. If you and your friends play your box a lot, you can expect familiar play patterns to emerge. To break this up, I recommend swapping out powerful cards, or even retooling the supported elements to break up the monotony. If you find that some cards are constantly ending the game, then cut them for different effects or a less powerful version of the card. For example, if Craterhoof Behemoth is always delivering the fatal blow, it's ok to replace him with Decimator of the Provinces.

Another less drastic way to do this, is to try to max out on modal cards (cards with different modes like charms). Modal cards are great for Battle Box in general, because they allow the players to craft their experience and they offer deep lines of play. In this case, they also add variety to games.

The last bit of advice that I'll give here, is to add a rule that when you run out of cards, the graveyard, and exile get shuffle together to make the deck again. This will help mitigate the issue of playing with such a small deck. I think it would also add some drama on the second go-around. This rule may affect Graveyard Matters themes negatively, so make sure you do some testing if you included that kind of archetype in your box.

What are your future plans for the Commander Battle Box?

I have a lot of things that I want to do with the box. They vary from design things, to upkeep things like replacing the sleeves and getting a nice wooden box made for it. I’ll talk first about the design stuff and then a small bit about the custom box.

There’s a concept that is starting to gel for me as I work on this project. It’s the concept of “maturation.” Those who’ve build and maintained a Cube, or Commander deck over a long period of time understand this well. As I get chances to play the Battle Box, I get to experience what is working, and what is not. Based on these observations changes are made to the box, and over time the box “matures.” As it matures, the play experience becomes better (at least that’s the hope). New sets, and discovering new cards or strategies to mix into the box also contribute to this maturation process. I’m looking forward to taking my time walking through this process.

As part of the maturation process, I’m looking forward to trying a bunch of different things. I’d like to add a good selection of the Partner Commanders. As you know, I’m all about giving players the tools they need to customize their experience, and I think the Partner Commanders are a perfect fit for that. I’d also like to try adding duplicates of some Commander hallmark cards, like Lightning Greaves, Sol Ring, Avenger of Zendikar, and Cyclonic Rift. I haven’t gotten too far in the process of working this out, I may look for soft spots in the design, or just give more players access to powerful cards. Along the lines of shoring up some soft spots, I’m also interested in designing some custom cards for the Battle Box.

I’d like to repurpose some existing Magic designs by adding details that make them more Battle Box friendly. For example, I could see adding Cycling to a bunch of cards, re-template some cards for multiplayer, and even adding the Partner mechanic to some older two-color Legendary Creatures — who wouldn’t want to Partner Vial Smasher with Sygg, River Cutthroat? I also have some ideas for some fixed tutors, as well as some other crazy ideas, but we’ll save that for another time.

Over the process of building this box, I’ve had quite a few people donate cards to me. Though I didn’t ask them to, I do appreciate their generosity. This is where the idea for a custom box came to mind. I’m currently carrying the Battle Box in an old cardboard 5k box. It gets its own row, sandwiched between two rows of the bulk-I-may-someday-use. I’m in conversations with the guy who made me the deck box below, to make a custom wooden box for the Commander Battle Box. It’ll probably have the Magic Logo, or “EDH Battle Box” in stylized script on the lid. On the sides, I’d like to inscribe the names of my friends who donated cards. I think that would be a really cool tribute to them. If I do end up getting it made, I’ll post a picture in the comments.

Closing the Box (Shout-Outs)

I've really had a blast sharing my box and my ideas with you! Thank you for sharing your time with me, and reading along. Please view me as a resource, if I can help you in your endeavors, let me know! I’m looking forward to seeing your Commander Battle Boxes in the near future! Let’s land this plane with some shout-outs.

Jay Boosh — Jay is a longtime friend and former podcast co-host. I introduced you to him in the first article. He's finally started to read the articles and I think he like them! Hopefully we’ll convince him to abandon his other projects to build a Commander Battle Box!

PucaTrade Discord Community — Since I started this project, I've been hanging out and trading on the PucaTrade Discord server. I don’t often visit my LGS so this has been super convenient. The folks there traded me many of the odds and ends for my box. I just want to send a High-Five out to my friends in Discordia!

Cube Tutor — I shouted them out in the article, but I want to do again here. Also, while we’re on the topic, you can keep up-to-date on my Battle Boxes by “Following” (if you have an account) or bookmarking these two links: Commander Battle Box, & Budget Commander Box.




1 Pro Tip: Take the cardboard insert out of the lid of the Fat Pack Box before closing the box. That insert has a tendency to damage cards when the box is packed.

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