Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Designing Archfrenemies

By Bradley Rose

“Wait, what’s Archfrenemies?” you ask as you read the title of this blog post. If this describes you, check out my Card Kingdom blog post on the rules of this Cube draft innovation and Archenemy variant by clicking here.

To summarize, it’s a Cube draft followed by an eight-player game with two archenemies and two three-player teams. It has its own special rules to help ensure this “large multiplayer” format is still fun.

This post will look at issues inherent to multiplayer games and cover how Archfrenemies design and pack rarity distribution addressed those issues.

Multiplayer, Multi-Problems

As you add more players to a game of Magic, some interesting phenomena not present in one-on-one duels start to bubble up: increased board complexity, longer downtime between turns, incentivized stalling, nullified race strategies, and answer cards losing value. Let’s examine how Archfrenemies solves each of these as a “large multiplayer” format.

Increased board complexity

Eight players’ worth of permanents is way too many to keep track of. Unlike Conspiracy splitting up eight drafters into two four-player games, Archfrenemies utilizes the “range of influence” that the Emperor format uses. It’s key to this particular experience to have all the players in the game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t limit what players can affect or be affected by.

Too much downtime

One of the turn-offs of large multiplayer games is the notion that you’ll wait for too many other players to take their turn before you take your next one. With the three players on each team sharing a turn, this means there are really four turns in a round. Additionally, the “outside assistance” cards included in the Cube specifically creates engagement amongst active and non-active players. One of the “hooks” of the format just so happens to help solve for this issue.

Incentivized stalling

Attacking with your creatures in a multiplayer environment can leave you defenseless against too many others or influence the current state of in-game political affairs, which you might not want to change. Both these scenarios encourage you to “turtle up,” impeding the game’s progression toward an end.

Archfrenemies utilizes a few mechanics, including goad and battalion, that encourage you to attack in the team environment while still having a teammate able to leave up blockers on your behalf.

Lastly, the archenemy players naturally draw the in-game politics toward themselves instead of the team players, and set schemes into motion that break up stalled board states. With schemes designed to be played in an environment with Constructed decks, players have all the more reason to focus their attacks on a common enemy and outrace those powerful schemes.

Nullified race strategies

In a duel, burn and milling strategies are effective because “running out of gas” isn’t a problem when the one opponent is dead with zero life or zero cards in their library. In a multiplayer environment, this kind of strategy isn’t feasible.

For both Conspiracy and Archfrenemies, milling as a strategy isn’t even supported. Sometimes, it’s better to take away something than to add more infrastructure to fix certain aspects (like some kind of weird rule that milling one player copies the effect for all other players).

As for burn spells in the Cube; they go bigger, go wider, are repeatable, or cantrip. We still want burn, as that’s core to red’s identity, but the card pool provides burn spells that don’t leave you disadvantaged.

Devalued answers

For multiplayer format games, answering one threat has diminished value as others’ threats are left unanswered. Also, there tends to be only one game played per multiplayer match, which puts normally-sideboard-able effects into an odd position for how they get played.

Archfrenemies includes some cards that target more than one threat or give you value on top of the answers. It’s more expensive to cast these, but you only have so many cards in hand to expend on answering threats.

For sideboard-able answers, like destroying artifacts and enchantments, one solution is making the answer a part of an “or” with a mainboard-able effect (destroying creatures). However, another way to make these sideboard-able answers matter enough more to be mainboard-able is to ensure the environment has enough of these threats that the answers can reliably address them.

Due to unique nature of Archfrenemies’ pack design, there are more artifact threats to answer than usual for a non-”artifacts matter” set, making the Cube’s Smash cantrip not as bad of a mainboard include.

Pack It Up

Speaking of Archfrenemies’ pack design, the mechanical themes of the Archfrenemies Cube made me want to mimic traditional booster pack composition in terms of card rarities. I also made a couple tweaks to promote a more fun experience for the format.

The land slot

The breakdown of pack rarity for Conspiracy: Take the Crown was 10 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare/mythic, 1 “draft matters”. For Archfrenemies, the breakdown is the same, but I substituted a nonbasic land for the “draft matters” card.

Multiplayer draft formats need more high-impact spells than a typical limited game, and those higher-impact spells tend to be uncommon and rare. Having a rare dual land take up the slot in a pack of what otherwise might have been a game finisher is something that can and should be avoided.

I still needed mana fixing, but I didn’t want an uncommon or rare slot to be taken up by a necessary evil. Instead, I repurposed that “extra” slot for nonbasic land (a la Dragon’s Maze and Fate Reforged) and left out nonbasic lands from the rest of the Cube’s pack distribution.


For some Cubes that have commons and uncommons like Archfrenemies does, there might only one copy of any one particular rare. This is the case for Archfrenemies. Let’s imagine someone casts the board wipe In Garruk’s Wake. It’s a rare, so you know there’s no way another will be around - but this experience isn’t like the real world where there’s a tiny chance another In Garruk’s Wake can show up.

To keep this element of uncertainty, I decided to implement the “foil” feature of Magic packs. I have a separate pool for pack construction that contains one extra copy of every unique card in the set. One out of every three packs, a random one of these extra copies replaces a common.

This also potentially gives more support to cards in the Cube that care about the number of copies of any one particular card (or land type of Locus), whether it’s Faerie Miscreant or Glimmerpost.

That’s the Game

That’s all I have for today! If you’re interested in learning more about the design of Archfrenemies, discussion of the mechanics, cycles, and individual cards included in the Cube will take place in future writing, which I’ll be sure to share out in a tweet. Let me know what you think of designing for a multiplayer draft format or whether this post has impacted any of your own Magic design projects. I’ll be bringing the Archfrenemies Cube to GP Vegas, so catch me if you’d like to get in on a draft!

(This Community Spotlight article comes courtesy of Bradley Rose, longtime Artisan and co-host of the Beacon of Creation design podcast. He also hosts a design blog, and you should try to figure out the mystery theme of his Princess Lucrezia commander deck. If you would like to contribute a Community Spotlight article, check out Write for Goblin Artisans, then send a brief pitch of your idea to zefferal on gmail.)


  1. It'll be interested to see how this changes with additional testing. As is, I'd be concerned about a format where players draft and then play one 2+ hour game. If I'm planning a game night, a long game with player elimination is going to be a nonstarter, because if you lose in the first 30 minutes you're totally bored until someone else loses. That's mitagated in a GP where I can leave and do something else, but still.

    1. A valid concern, but one that I would say Conspiracy, Archenemy, and Commander face as well - but probably not as much as Archfrenemies.

      For Conspiracy, drafting and then losing in a multiplayer game is a concern.

      For Archenemy, being eliminated early by the archenemy is probable.

      For Commander, long games is probable - depending on your meta.

      I'll be sure to track this for each playtest session. :)

  2. My inclination would be to build decks specifically for this format and eliminate the cube aspect. That prevents having one player getting a bad/overpowered deck and unbalancing the the game for the rest of the group. Particularly at a GP setting, you're going to have some players who know the themes of the cube and can draft around them, while others are going to be brand new. It also focuses on the unique part of the format (the 3v3v1v1 teams) and less on the deck building.

    1. A nifty idea when bringing Archfrenemies to the GP itself! Easier to get right into it.

    2. I agree, and building 8-12 theme decks to choose from seems like a fun challenge/opportunity.

    3. Pasteur! 8 - 12 theme decks to choose from sounds even better!

  3. I, for one, welcome our new Archfrenemy overlords.

  4. Oh! I totally missed that they 'reprinted' Plague Wind. OK, I guess I'll keep using that as a mana cost comparison :)

    Yeah, that does sound like a cool format.

    1. Thank you so much! I wonder which is generally preferable - destroying planeswalkers or ensuring the creatures can't be regenerated? Hmm.

  5. I really enjoyed reading about the design intent behind your choices in Archfrenemies. Very cool.

    1. Thanks, Jay. I'm hoping that there's at least one takeaway for set and Cube design with the problems I chose to focus on, even if my choices or execution doesn't hit the mark perfectly. :)