For the past three years, I have posted about a Challenge format that I have run, which has been highly popular in my playgroup. It was based off of an old Noah Weil article on starcitygames.com about something called a “BOO Draft.” A BOO Draft (“BOO” stands for “Build Our Own”), is a format where you get 8 creative people together and have them create 45 Magic cards each (or three packs’ worth), and then do a booster draft with the results. We ran the first draft over the course of a summer, and found the format to be immensely fun.
Last year’s BOO III draft coincided with my wedding, meaning that it was especially important to me, because my little brother Joel who normally lives across the country from me got to participate. Once again, we all had a blast with our ridiculous made-up cards.
So, BOO drafts are fun and exciting. Sadly, this year most of the possible participants have adult obligations and things for the foreseeable future, and are thus unable to participate once again in this most fun of events. I found myself with a dilemma; what outlet could I possibly channel this creative energy into?
That brings us to this year’s BOO event: The BOO Battle Box. Let’s take a look at what this will be!
BOO drafts are awesomely fun, and honestly something that every creative Magic player should try to put together at some point in their Magic career. Getting to see cards that you’ve brainstormed come to life, and be played to win games is a great feeling, and the cards always end up looking awesome.
I was highly disappointed that we’d end up missing this year’s BOO Draft, so I set out to come up with something else creative we could do instead. That’s when I hit upon the idea of a custom Battle Box, where the few of us who remained this year would collaborate to make enough made-up cards to do an entire Battle Box out of them.
What is the Battlebox format?
A Battle Box is a format idea that was first popularized by some of the MTG pros, and is an immensely fun way to play Magic. Battle Box is characterized by having one communal deck and one graveyard that each player plays from. Importantly, you also only get one set of ten lands to play the entire game with (normally, this would be one of the “comes into play tapped” cycle of duals, like the Coastal Tower cycle, and one of each basic land). The ten lands are in your command zone to start, and may be played each turn from there.
The land mechanic makes playing Battle Box quite tricky, as you always have to balance which of your colors you need, and sequence your land drops each turn very carefully in order to have each color so you can cast your spells at the right time.
From the Battle Box website, www.battlebox.com, here are the official rules for the format:
The setup of a Battle Box game is a lot like a normal Magic game, but there are some notable exceptions:
-Each player receives one land set. These are set aside in the Command Zone.
-Each player takes a good chunk (~40 cards) off the communal deck to use as their personal library. Alternatively, players could draw off a central communal deck to save on kitchen table space and time spent shuffling, but be aware that this alters how cards like Crystal Ball and Hinder work; you are manipulating the top card of the library which will most likely be drawn by a different player.
-Each player draws a starting hand of four cards from their libraries. Because lands are not part of a player’s hand, starting hands need to be smaller than seven cards.
-No mulligans are allowed. With mana separated from the rest of the cards, the need for mulligans is much less and not allowing them helps speed things along.
During the Game
Again, the Battle Box follows the standard Magic rules, with the following exceptions:
-A player’s maximum hand size is 7, not counting any lands in the Command Zone.
-If at any time a player’s library is about to run out of cards, take a new chunk off the communal deck and add it to the bottom of the player’s library. A player’s library can never run out of cards and the cards in each player’s library are still considered to be in the communal deck.
-Each card a player has drawn is considered owned by that player for the rest of the game or until that card is somehow put back into the communal deck.
-Each turn, a player may put one land card from the Command Zone onto the battlefield. Treat this exactly as if the land was played from the player’s hand. A player can only play one land each turn, either from their hand or their Command Zone.
-If a card would require a player to shuffle it into his or her library, put it on the bottom of the communal deck instead. This rule accomodates the use of cards like Black Sun’s Zenith without having to worry about shuffling or the exact size of each player’s library.
Darby and I have been playing Battle Box with each of the previous years’ BOO sets, and I can confirm that the format is a lot of fun. So, our idea is simple: Build a custom Battle Box, made up only of custom cards.
There are a lot of things we would have to do to make this work, and it’s quite mind-boggling as to how much work would go into this. Yet I am undaunted by this, since I think this project would end up being a lot of fun. How, though, would we go about even starting such a project?
I looked first at how the creators of the original Battle Box had put together guidelines on how to build a Battle Box’s communal deck:
The Communal Deck
The communal deck can contain any number of cards, but there are some guidelines to consider to build a well-balanced communal deck:
-To maximize variety between games, include only a single copy of each card in your Battle Box unless there is a really good reason to include multiples of specific cards.
-Include approximately the same number of cards in each color. Unlike in a format like Cube where equal distribution over the different colors is crucial, a Battle Box will function fine as long as no colors are woefully over- or underrepresented.
Keep to a more or less flat power level. You could in principle build a Vintage Power Box or a Budget Pauper Box, but within each Box the cards should match up more or less evenly against each other. For example, a Box should not contain both a Balduvian Barbarians and an Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, because at the same mana cost their power levels are just too far apart. As a rule of thumb, keeping the power level to good uncommons and playable casual rares provides a nice Battle Box experience.
-Don’t include too much card draw. Because every card drawn from the communal deck is “live” (i.e. not a land), card draw becomes much more powerful than it usually is. It’s not a problem to have some incidental card draw in your communal deck, but be aware of its power.
-Don’t include any tutors. Tutoring means a lot of time is spent searching through a complex deck, and also takes away from the variety between games. Tutoring within the first X cards (like with See the Unwritten) can be fine, but is also more powerful than it normally is.
-Finally, don’t include mana ramp or land destruction. It goes against the spirit of the format, which is built on equal availability of mana to all players, and it also eats up deck space from spells that actually do something.
When Darby and I sit down to build this custom Box, we’ll be doing it using these guidelines. All cards are one of a kind, there will be the same number of cards in each color, no Tutoring, no mana ramp, no LD. It will be very interesting to see if we can operate within these restrictions and come up with something creative and fun to play.
It’s worth mentioning that due to only having ten lands, and half of those coming into play tapped, gold cards will be much harder to cast than normal, and thus we can push their power level further than we normally would. A card that costs RRG will be quite hard to cast, and you have to sequence your land drops very carefully if you’re trying to cast it on turn three (which will lead to not being able to cast other cards in your hand, and gives Battle Box a lot of its strategy).
The rough numbers for our custom Battle Box will be:
-40 cards of each color (200 total)
-50 artifacts and/or colorless cards
This will give us 320 cards to start with, and we will adjust the numbers from here. 320 custom cards may seem like a steep goal, but it’s only 160 each, and I think both Darby and I are more than creative enough to come up with this many.
My starting checklist from each BOO Draft should also apply here:
-Creatures, of course, of various sizes and a good mix of abilities (flying or evasion being key abilities, and from there, trample, first or double strike, haste, and reach all being needed)
-A cycle of Charms, with multiple good abilities for you to choose from (ie. Izzet Charm)
-Pump spells (ie. Giant Growth)
-A Control Magic spell
-One or two counterspells, or Deflection effects
-A Mind Rot effect
-An unconditional kill spell (ie. Murder)
-A mana ramping spell or creature
-At least one Wrath of God effect, and possibly a Pyroclasm variant
-An Overrun effect
-Some cards that you could mill your opponent to death with
-Some form of lifegain that doesn’t suck
-A planeswalker that isn’t overpowered
-Ways to hose the graveyard (ie. Withered Wretch)
These are the main cards and things that I’ve tried to build into each one of my BOO sets. I can only imagine that this checklist should apply to a Battle Box as well.
THEME (OR LACK THEREOF):
Now that Darby and I know that we’ll each be doing half of a Battle Box, the next question for each of us is whether or not we want to include a theme amongst our 160 cards.
160 cards is both a lot, and not so many, depending on what we want to do. In the past, we’ve had to make do with squeezing our themes into 45 cards for the BOO Drafts, so we have made more work with less space. There does happen to be a number of different themes that I’d love to explore as BOO sets, so the BOO Battle Box looks like the right place to explore them in a custom MTG set. The problem is, what to do?
The current BOO IV set that is on hold for now is going to be themed around books (choose a book or a book series, like Harry Potter, and build your custom cards around that). So that one is out, we have to do something else.
Here are the other various things I’ve looked at designing sets around:
-Comic books and/or their adaptations: This should be a no-brainer, as I’ve always liked Superman, Batman, the rest of the Justice League, and the various Marvel characters. I’ve been itching to make a comic-themed set, since there are so many awesome heroes and villains who would translate well into cardboard. In the BOO III set, I made sure to include the movie Batman (and I was very happy when my wife chose to do the Marvel Cinematic Universe), as it looked like we wouldn’t have a chance to make a BOO comic set any time soon. Is this Battle Box the place for it?
-More video games: If there’s one thing both Darby and I are passionate about, it’s classic gaming. 8-bit and 16-bit gaming, from the NES era to the SNES era, had passion and heart that is lacking in most games of today, and can still claim to be some of the greatest games of all time. Both Darby and I paid tribute to this in our BOO II sets, him with the classic Final Fantasy 1, and me with Mega Man 1, and so if we put our heads together, I’m sure we could come up with a sweet classic gaming Battle Box.
-Classic cartoons/TV shows: One thing last year’s BOO (which was TV and movie-themed) did was to let us create cards for our favorite cartoon and TV and film characters. This proved to actually be really fun, and so we could definitely do so again for other characters that we had not had a chance to do (for me, I could make cards for cartoons from my childhood, like GI Joe, Thundercats, and He-Man).
Jay had already tackled a nostalgia-filled cartoon with his BOO III set, themed around the classic 80’s Transformers cartoon. This would give us a chance to do more of that.
The other thing we could do is to just have no theme at all, and just go with cards that would fit in the Battle Box. Time will tell which choice we go with, and I’ll keep everyone posted.
Conclusion: So there you have it! That’s a quick look at the next Build Our Own project that me and Darby are going to be working on for the next while, the BOO Battle Box! I’ll be keeping everyone posted on the project, and I really look forward to seeing what we can come up with!