Friday, October 1, 2021

Amonkhet, Rebirth and Desert Cubes

 Wobbles the Goose

It’s #MTGMoxtober! A month of design prompts for the Magic creatively inclined. I love a good design prompt, and this first one “Rebirth” has me excited for the upcoming return to Kamigawa. I love when media properties return to existing worlds and show how they’ve changed and developed over time. 

One setting that I’m also excited to eventually revisit is Amonkhet. The initial outing was so Bolas centered that the Egyptian Mythology aspects really got sidelined or just generally poorly served by the sets themselves. Plus, the plot clearly sets us up for a sequel of Hazoret and the survivors surviving in the desert, searching for information about the pre-Bolas and looking for a new home. A little bit Raiders of the Lost Ark, a little Ten Commandments, and a lot of Geraldine Pinch’s Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt? Let’s go!

On the mechanical side is where it gets really interesting, because a Rebirth of Amonkhet could finally be an excuse for WotC to try and design a Desert Cube in a standard legal set. Desert Cubes are a fascinating design challenge with the premise being that players only use the lands they draft. There isn’t a land station where you can grab more basics, but basic lands do appear in packs. Given my interest in low component cubes, desert cubes are definitely in my wheelhouse and a lot of the considerations around unbalancing the colors or providing extreme curve considerations are on display in the many examples on cube cobra: Update! The current top result of the search is even an Amonkhet themed Desert Cube by @GoblinGathering. Give him a follow!

The recent re-return to Zendikar has also been a huge boon to Desert Cube design, with mdfc lands basically redefining the architecture of these cubes and providing a lot more “slots” for land in the cube. Ixalan, Innistrad and Castmire have dabbled with the transforming land space as well, which could have interesting potential to represent Amonkhet survivors making discoveries under the sands. But none of these sets has done away with “free basics” entirely.

An alternative to just removing free lands all together would be to try replacing them with some other lands that you can get for free. This came up after Alexis Janson asked for the worst Magic formats you could get Magic players to try: 

This is actually a direction I hoped they would go when they announced Ravnican Gates would be replacing basics in packs of Dragon’s Maze and I still think it would have been an interesting way to change up that draft environment. Hour of Devastation’s pain deserts are almost certainly too good to give players unlimited copies. Especially spikey Ramunap Ruins in a world where everyone is taking lots of pain damage from their mana. What about a return to Amonkhet with free Ash Barrens but only the basics you draft? Cube Cobra actually allows you to replace or add cards to the basic lands menu when players test your cube, so those options are open to cube builders. I’d love examples of cubes that use alternate basics in the comments if you have them! 

Finally, “Is this card better than another basic land?” is an interesting way to look at Ari’s 6th Question. Basic Lands being free means that they’re typically the “floor” of a limited deck. Changing where that floor is opens up design assumptions that are rarely questioned in Magic sets, but could be in the right environment. It’s a Gold Mine of potential design space! 

 What could be scarier than a cube where your only lands are Gold Mines?

You can find me on Twitter @wobbles (check out the #MTGMoxtober hashtag for more designs from this year or last year. It’s more popular than ever thanks to TikTok(!?!))

or in the Beacon of Creation discord

Or on my Tumblr where I post other small and cheap game design ideas:

Honk! Honk!


  1. Not #WotCsafe:

    This is a custom design for use with a desert cube. The idea is that you could offer Mirages for free with basics still in packs. That reduces the number of totally unplayable decks and means you don’t need to include as many basics in the cube itself. Because it’s random, it makes off-color basic picks less appealing as well. And, because it exchanges, it means your more likely to hit a Mirage with a Mirage as the game continues, so you’d still want to include basics in your main deck if you’re able.

    1. I've never really thought about this space. Mirage is a really fascinating design, and I see what you mean about how the late game changes when you have a sideboard with mostly mirages and a few remaining WUBRG basics.
      I am curious how tedious the random selection becomes with every land drop. And how cheaty. There is a mental cost whenever you require players to remain vigilant to monitor their opponent's common actions. Especially when randomly hitting the correct basic will temp even the most honest player.

    2. Depends on how you have the cube built or how you’re playing the card for the randomization. If you wind up with under 20 lands, it’s easy enough to just roll a die. I could easily see a cube where you’d wind up with <6, which would make it even easier. Or if you were playing super casually I could see using one of each basic every time and just adding mirages to the stack as you go.

      And rule 10 means it’s not a factor for Commander, except as extra wastes with the Desert subtype.