A New Beginning

As the cameras turned back to Dominaria for the first time in more than 10 years, mtgbattlebox.com was moving to a nicer place.

Welcome back!

It’s great to see you again, and I want to thank some of you for reaching out while we were away for maintenance. It’s great to see that what we do here means something to someone. Today I want to quickly tell you why we moved, and as a bonus I’ll share some thoughts on the Dominaria set with you.

Why we moved…

At the end of May, the European lawmakers have introduced a new privacy law for anyone based in the EU (yep, that’s us). When I ran the old site through a cookie scanner, it found 34 different cookies. Now, I like cookies as much as the next guy (especially stroopwafels ), but to be honest I didn’t know what at least half of the cookies were for. I wanted some more control over what the website did.

On top of that, I was getting a little tired that every time I wrote an article I had to write an html page and change a dozen other pages just to keep all the links working. Meanwhile, I had built up some experience with WordPress through another project, and I figured the new law was a good reason to finally make the switch.

On the new site, new projects and articles can be published much quicker and easier. We will also have more control over what our site does. And we can offer it to you in https, which means your browser will show a nice soothing green lock when you visit us.

I have not checked every text to the letter, so if you spot something that looks wrong, or if you come across a dead link, please let me know so I can fix it. We have a nifty new contact form where you can quickly drop us a line.

What happened to the boxes

As I have written in a past article, my two main Battle Boxes have gotten new homes as well. They are now both housed in some lovely custom wooden boxes. These allow for some extra room, especially in the Commander Box. This means that as new sets come out, for now I will only be adding new cards to the Battle Box and the Commander Box until the box fills up.

Once the Boxes are full, I will start taking cards out again when new cards arrive. As I’m adding cards, I keep an eye on the balance between creatures and non-creatures as well as the mana curve. The project pages will show the up-to-date lists, but I can’t promise I’ll communicate every change I make (because I’m very good at forgetting things like that).

Back to business

Anyway, we were here to talk about Magic. Dominaria. I love going back to the plane where everything started, and I think Wizards has done a great job of revisiting old classics without it feeling like a rerun. The legendary creatures have a familiarity to them but are also clearly new. And sagas are a nice way to invoke the feeling of storytelling without having to bend a whole set around it.

For Battle Box, I think Dominaria is OK. Some of the new mechanics are a little parasitic, but the individual card quality is good. So let’s dive into the specifics.

Historic

The main mechanic in the Dominaria set are historic spells and things that care about them. I feel it’s a little clunky that these care about Sagas, artifacts and legendary creatures. Wouldn’t it have been easier to do artifacts and legendary permanents and make all the sagas legendary?

Normally, any mechanic that cares too much about specific cards is a bad Battle Box fix. And I think in the case of cards that care about historic spells, this will hold true. But this time, there is also an upside. Generally, the flavor of legendary creatures (both in concept and in gameplay) is a lot better than the flavor of regular creatures, and for Battle Box the legendary rule is virtually meaningless. So at least the historic mechanic means we get a set full of flavorful, splashy cards (even at uncommon, which is… well… uncommon).

Sagas

Beside being historic, the sagas have some nifty designs that really try to tell a story. I like the general idea, although I doubt if we’ll be seeing these a lot outside of casual games, because the setup time is a bit long. In Battle Box games, this is no issue, and I expect the Sagas to be fun cards.

Kicker

Kicker is back! Any mechanic that gives a card two modes (one cheap, one more expensive) is going to be great in Battle Box, as it can be used both in the early and in the late game. Of course, we have had many variations on the kicker theme by now, so any real excitement about the mechanic will have to come from the individual cards.

Legendary sorceries

I think this mechanic is a bit of a dud. Sure, a legendary sorcery sounds nice, but having to have a legendary creature in play will make these close to unplayable in many formats (like sealed, draft, cube and battle box). I would have liked the mechanic if the rule was something like “you can only have one copy of any legendary sorcery in your deck”; that would have given us a cool crossover between the Vintage restricted list and modern Magic. As it is, the card will have to be very powerful to make the cut in any of the Battle Boxes. There are some in the Dominaria Mini Box, of course.

Hexproof from

I think this is a cute reference to the old protection from mechanism, which neatly bypasses all the rules hassle that comes with that mechanic. It’s clean and flavorful, and I’m sure it will turn up from time to time in the future.

Dominaria Top 20

As usual, I’ll give you my top 20 Dominaria cards to include in your Battle Boxes. Don’t take any of these as gospel. I often turn out to be wrong about cards after playing with them a few times. And that’s good. If I could solve Magic just by looking at the cards, it would be no fun at all. That said, these are the cards that stood out for me:

20. Shalai, Voice of Plenty
I think this will be a powerful card in Commander, because giving your team hexproof is a handy ability. For Battle Box, it is equally powerful, but because in Battle Box Shalai will be much harder to protect I think it will be acceptable. I think this will work best in a more powerful Box like the Commander Box.

19. Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy
This girl can grow! The fact that she is very cheap to play and that every subsequent creature makes her bigger creates some fun tension at the table. Nothing too powerful, so she’ll work in any box.

18. Rite of Belzenlok
Over the course of three turns you’ll produce some cannon fodder, followed by a slightly deflated Lord of the Pit. I think this is an OK power level, and the fact that you can see the demon coming from a mile away will create some great tension.

17. Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
I think it is great they made this power 1 or toughness 1. This means it can work in more aggressive boxes (with lots of Hasty Elemental tokens and the like). And even if there are no other creatures on the board, a 1/3 unblockable creature is not bad for 2 mana.

16. Warcry Phoenix
Here is a card that loves crashing into the red zone. Encouraging attacks is generally good for Battle Box design, and I think the Phoenix allows for enough subtlety that it will be a great hit.

15. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
I’ll be honest. I’m a sucker for any card that lets you manipulate the top cards of the communal library, because it allows for such fun shenanigans (if you play Battle Box that way). I think the -3 and -8 abilities on Teferi are fine in most Battle Boxes, but it may just be that the +1 ability turns out to be too strong. Definitely a card for high powered boxes, in any case.

14. Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering
Basically a Rise from the Grave with a doom blade stuck to it. That’s nice enough, but I would really only consider playing this in the Commander Battle Box, as Commander is the only format where you can reliably cast a legendary sorcery.

13. In Bolas’s Clutches
There are not that many cards that let you permanently take control of any permanent. And the downside on this is negligible in a format like Battle Box (where every card is singleton).

12. Helm of the Host
The possibilities with this card are seemingly endless. Great in a format like Commander, because it can copy legendary creatures. The only reason it’s not higher up this list is the high equip cost, which smells a bit like a trap.

11. Haphazard Bombardment
Over the course of three turns (starting the turn you play it), you’ll get to destroy a troublesome permanent. The catch is that one of the four permanents you select will survive the bombardment. I think the randomness on this will be fun for all players, especially in a multiplayer box, and this may be better than it looks at first glance. Be aware that this can target lands, so it would be good to agree to not target lands if you include this in your Box (getting rid of three lands is way too powerful and not fun).

10. Grand Warlord Radha
Ramping your mana by attacking gives you a great incentive to crash into the red zone. Unless you like stalled board states, that is a good thing for most battle boxes. I think her stats are nothing to be ashamed of, and haste is another nice combat enabler.

9. Whisper, Blood Liturgist
The immediate comparison here is Hell’s Caretaker. You have to sacrifice two creatures instead of one, which makes this more at home in decks that churn out creature tokens somehow. On the other hand, Whisper is a little less fragile, and you get to pull this trick outside of your upkeep which means he can pull of some mean combat shenanigans. For the Battle Box, I like him in theory, but we’ll have to see whether the extra sacrifice makes him too situational.

8. Verix Bladewing
I already liked Broodmate Dragon, but if both dragons are legendary brothers, I can’t resist. The fact that you have both options makes this a better card than broodmate. And it gives me an excuse to add another nice token to the box.

7. The Eldest Reborn
Obviously a card that will do best in multiplayer boxes, but boy, does it perform there. All your opponents will suffer twice (and depending on your timing, the impact can be big) and as a cherry on the cake you get a freebie from one of their graveyards. It will almost feel dirty to play this.

6. Fungal Infection
A tiny tactical strike and a free token. At instant speed. For 1 black mana. I know this card seems underwhelming and I wouldn’t play it in a high-powered box, but in the right box this has combat fun written all over it.

5. Forebear’s Blade
A sword that gives some relevant Knighty bonuses and gets handed down when a creature dies? I know it doesn’t sound like much, but skipping that equip 3 makes a big difference. Obviously, most swords will grant more powerful abilities, but vigilance and trample are nothing to sneeze at. I think this card will give many opponents a serious headache.

4. Josu Vess, Lich Knight
A 4/5 Menace for 4 mana is not a great rate, but it’s not a dead draw most of the time either. And then, when you hit the full 10 mana, he suddenly becomes a big army in a can. I think most people will hold on to him until turn 10, which may in the end prove too boring, but it’s worth giving him a shot.

3. Triumph of Gerrard
I’m not really sure why the “with the highest power” qualifier was necessary but likely there was some Standard interaction that would be too powerful. Anyway, the reason this is up so high is its low cost. You can play this on an early turn to really boost one of your early creatures or play it later to push through a bigger one. Obviously, people will see it coming, but even if this just draws a Lightning Bolt or some other premium removal spell, it will probably be worth it.

2. Fight with Fire
Five damage to a creature for 3 mana is not great, but it will often be relevant enough. And the kicked spell can blow out most boards, especially in 2 player boxes.

1. Dauntless Bodyguard
You may have noticed that the top of these lists are rarely splashy spells or big ability creatures. This is because as a Battle Box designer, you should be more concerned with the little things. Filling up a Box with splashy 6 mana cards is easy. Getting a Box to be fun from turn 1 until the end of the game is more tricky and required cards that are versatile. A 2/1 for 1 mana is always useful, and I would not be ashamed to play this on turn 1 (or even on turn 5 if the board was empty enough or I had some removal). But being able to protect an important creature makes this powerful at any stage of the game. As a Battle Box designer, that’s exactly what you want. A card that people would be happy to draw at any time, but that could also be a decent tempo play when players draw this in their opening hand.

That’s it for Dominaria. These are the cards I like in a vacuum. Of course, Battle Boxes are not a vacuum, and the cards I have actually decided to include in my boxes are:

Battle Box:

Dauntless Bodyguard
Fight with Fire
Forebear’s Blade
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Rite of Belzenlok
Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
Triumph of Gerrard
Verix Bladewing

Commander Box:

Grand Warlord Radha (Commander Pool)
Helm of the Host
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
The Eldest Reborn
Whisper, Blood Liturgist
Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering

That’s more than I would add from most sets, which is a testament to the quality of the individual cards in Dominaria. That’s all for now. As always, I would appreciate it if you leave your thoughts. Which cards did I miss, which cards did I overestimate? What do you think about the new site?