It’s been almost a year since I started mtgbattlebox.com. Time to have a look at what we learned and make changes where necessary.
When I started this website, I was building on a few articles from format trailblazers like Brian deMars and Ben Stark. After a year of many experiments, variations and tweaks, I have learned a lot about the format as a whole and my own Battle Boxes in particular. I felt it was time to take a step back and evaluate what we have learned. Perhaps the official rules will need some tweaking. Perhaps I will need to rethink some of my boxes. We’ll have to dig in and see.
There are a few things to consider when determining the starting hand size. You could just start with seven cards as normal, giving players a veritable wealth of choice during the first turns of the game. I think this is far too much, resulting in players having to discard cards during the first few turns and having a full hand for most of the game. Although this will allow players to have a more balanced game (because players get some amount of card selection), the extra time consumed making extra decisions does not seem worth it.
The optimal starting hand is somewhere between 3 and 4 cards. With 3 cards, there is less decision time during each turn because players’ hands are generally at a manageable size. Also, with three cards, games tend to play most like a normal game of Magic in terms of choices available to a player. However, with 3 cards the variance players experience when drawing starting hands is considerably greater, increasing the chance of drawing no creatures at the start of the game. With 4 cards, players tend to have more choices available than in a normal Magic game, which also increases decision times. On the other hand, players will have more consistent starting hands, which will feel more fair to the players. On balance, it feels right that Battle Box should have a slightly higher number of options than a normal game of Magic.
Verdict: Starting hand size will stay at 4 cards.
I have never seriously contemplated mulligans for my Battle Boxes. Because every card drawn in Battle Box is live (i.e. not a land), even bad starting hands tend to solve themselves after a few turns. Of course, not having a creature or having only spells that cost 4 or more in your opening hand can be frustrating, but it’s very rare that such opening hands result in a boring, one-sided game. The main reason Magic has any mulligan rules at all is because people were losing to mana flood or mana screw too often. Because those problems are solved by the Battle Box format, mulligan rules are unnecessary.
Verdict: No official mulligan rule will be instated. If players feel a mulligan rule is necessary, I advise the following rule: A player who chooses to mulligan will receive a new hand of 4 cards once. No further mulligans are allowed after that.
Under the current rules, it is assumed players play off one central communal deck. A variant to this is to give each player a random chunk of the communal deck to serve as their own deck. An upside to this method is that certain abilities that manipulate the top card of the library (like Scry and Hinder) work as they were intended. Possible downsides are that the separate decks take up kitchen table real estate and that you need to reshuffle the communal deck more often (because you are cycling through more cards per game). I think the preference comes down to taste, and I have to admit I kind of like that Hindering an opponent’s spell puts it on top of the library for me to draw. Sure, it means you need to think a bit harder about which and how many of these cards to include, but it also gives the Battle Box a unique feel. On the other hand, unless they are the designer of the Battle Box, these alternative uses may not be obvious to most players.
Verdict: The alternative use of the communal deck leads to more intuitive gameplay and will therefore be the default in the official rules as of today. A variant option is included to still allow the old rule to be used if preferred.
Each of these abilities gets more powerful if a player has access to more colors (or types of basic land). Because players have access to all colors in Battle Box, these abilities are considerably more powerful than they are in normal Magic (the same is true for cards like Dragonsoul Knight). However, in a standard Battle Box configuration, Domain gives a nice tension between playing a dual land or playing a basic land to facilitate Domain. Sunburst and Converge give no such strategical tension, and should generally be considered at maximum power level because of how easy it is to get all five colors. This makes most Domain cards interesting Battle Box inclusions and most Sunburst/Converge cards cutting room floor material.
Duel vs Multiplayer
When I first designed my original Battle Box I was eager for it to be everything I needed. I wanted to be able to play it with a group of friends as well as in one on one duels. I included quite a few fatties and mostly left out one- and two-drops because in a multiplayer setting those are generally not good enough. As time progressed, I also built a Commander Box, and since then if my friends and I want to play a multiplayer Battle Box game we always break out the Commander Box (if you haven’t tried it yet give it a go, it’s epic fun). This meant my Battle Box was suffering from split personality disorder. I only really played it in a duel setting but I had this high mana curve and all these extra land sets taking up space. I decided to heavily rework my box so from now on it would be specifically built for two players. To do this, I took out three land sets as well as a number of the more expensive cards and specific multiplayer cards. The cards I put back almost all cost 1 to 3 mana to cast, and really help make the box play better from the start of each game. I also tried to use cards that present interesting decisions rather than just straightforward cards (for example, Lava Axe is straightforward and a bit boring, while Fiery Conclusion forces you to make a decision and is much more interesting). I am quite happy with how the Box turned out, and for the future I have learned to make a box either for multiplayer or for duels, but not both.
Don’t Be Shy
Before I leave you with the changes I made to the Battle Box, I’d like to offer a little personal note. This website is very much a labor of love for me, which eats up a lot of time and effort but also brings me great joy. I sometimes get an e-mail asking a specific question or just leaving some feedback and that’s great. All I want to say is: don’t be shy. I love to hear stories about why Battle Box is fun for you and which projects you want me to pursue in the future. In the end, I’m only doing this because I’m convinced it’s useful to someone somewhere, so hearing that it really is from time to time goes a long way to helping me keep it up. So please, if you have something you would like to share, leave a comment at the bottom of the page or drop me an e-mail. Thank you all for the interest you’ve shown in the past year, I’m sure the next year will be a great Battle Box year as well!
Battle Box Changes
Because this was such a big overhaul and most cards were changed with a singular purpose (making the Battle Box a two player box exclusively), I will only give you a quick listing of all the changes I made. I did take out some cards because they were either too powerful or underwhelming, but mainly cards were changed because they were too expensive or multiplayer-focused to be in a two player Battle Box.
Guardian of the Gateless
Hunter of Eyeblights
Juniper Order Ranger
Knight-Captain of Eos
Rescue from the Underworld
Scourge of Geier Reach
Slave of Bolas
Act of Treason
Anger of the Gods
Caller of the Claw
Crime // Punishment
Eidolon of Countless Battles
Feeling of Dread
Might of Alara
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest