Insider: Danger Room Updates

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For those of you who don’t know, “The Danger Room” or “Battle Box” is an extremely skill-intensive, interesting, and fun Magic variant. The format holds a special place in my heart for me because, well, I was the one who came up with it!

The basic premise of the format for those who are unfamiliar is that each player starts with a small stack of lands that begin the game set aside: one of each of the five basic lands and one of each of the allied-color comes-into-play-tapped dual lands.

The players play off of a shared, predesigned “big deck” of cards and get to play one of each of their lands from outside the game each turn. The basic premise is that mana flood and mana screw are both eliminated from these games because each player makes all ten of their first land drops and draws a spell every single draw step.

Different people have different variations on the rules that they use for this format and there is a ton of variation in the game play depending upon what kinds of cards they decide to include in their stack.

I don’t include any mana ramp or mana denial in my stack as a general rule. If one of the things that is supposed to be balanced is the mana a player has available to them at any point in the game, then cards that change this dynamic tend to be extremely powerful and break a thematic rule of the format.

I also don’t play any cards that manipulate the library or tutor. These kinds of cards are simply unnecessary in my estimation. Since you don’t really need to hit land drops or avoid flooding there is less of a need for this kind of effect. Plus the idea of searching through or shuffling a 700-card shared deck is pretty cumbersome.

For me, the way that I have my stack designed I recommend a starting hand size of six cards and a maximum hand size of nine cards. I also try as hard as possible to have the spells that I select be on as fair and even a power level as possible. You don’t want to have cards with wildly different power levels in your stack. For instance, you have to keep in mind that the game isn’t going to be super fun if one person is drawing cards like Wall of Stone and the other player is drawing Jace, the Mind Sculptor!

Basically, you want cards to have a pretty solid range for what kinds of cards you want to play with. For me, I want most of my cards to be the type of card I’d be happy to first-pick in a booster draft and I want my game play to feel like both players are playing awesome draft decks. However, I don’t want the kinds of cards that in draft straight up win the game when they are played.

These are the kinds of cards that a “good” draft deck is going to almost always lose to because they are straight up OP. As a general rule, I don’t play with planeswalkers in my stack. I’ve tried them and they are a pretty bad dynamic because they basically put your opponent into a situation where they must attack it or simply lose. The games devolve into a game of “Defend the Queen” where all the other player has to do is wait for the bad attacks to happen, block and win.

It wasn’t fun so I just moved on.

I’ve spent a ton of time over the years refining my stack and I think it's actually really well balanced for ideal game play. As a result, a lot of people tend to ask me for the list that I use. So, every year or so I write an article and publish my most up-to-date “big deck” list.

Obviously, the key to this format is to have fun and play with the cards that you and your friends enjoy playing with and I certainly encourage that element of customization.

However, I do suggest that my stack is really well balanced and has been played through hundreds of times, so it is a really good starting point. It can also be a good place to look for some new cards that perhaps you might not have thought to add to your stack.

There are also quite a few hidden “cube gems” in here--even if you are not a Danger Roomer it may be worth your while to scan through here and check out some of the cards that maybe you don’t recognize.

How My Danger Room Is Constructed

One of the biggest things that I realized fairly early on when I built my Danger Room is that a good stack really requires a lot of balancing.

The absolute first Danger Room that I built had like 150 Blue cards and 35 Red cards in it! While that might be really enjoyable to some blue mages it really predicts the kind of games that you will be playing. Every single game started with "Salt Marsh, go" every single time because there were simply too many blue and black cards.

There was another point where I realized that I had more removal and permission in my deck than actual threats!

Over the years I’ve worked to build a combination of cards that fosters creature combat. I’ve also worked to create a stack where there is a great deal of equality between the colors in the deck. In fact, each mono-color has exactly 65 cards, each two-color guild has 10 cards, and each shard/wedge has three cards. I also play 30 artifact cards and one 5-color card (Fusion Elemental, a mainstay ever since the first version of the Danger Room.)

My total stack is 486 cards and I typically try to keep it at that size. So, if I want to add a card I have to remove a card of the same color(s). Sometimes I expand my stack to 70 of each color and 12 of each guild--but I typically find that in order to meet the color requirements equally it means I have to play with some noticeably mediocre cards to get there. Guild combinations like Dimir and Rakdos are much less deep than Izzet or Selesnya.

With that introduction to the philosophy of my stack in mind, here are the actual cards that I’ve chose to play in my stack!






2-Color Guilds

As you can see, it’s a pretty nice mix of cards of all types (besides planeswalkers!) and truth be told most of the keyword abilities in Magic are represented in some way, shape or form. This is pretty cool because there are a lot of cool Limited-style interactions between cards and mechanics from different blocks that never really come up.

Megamorph + Proliferate came up yesterday for the first time and that was pretty neat.

Lastly, I'd like to touch on a few of the cards I'm interested in from Magic Origins for my stack. There are quite a few really interesting-looking limited cards in Origins that I think would be absolutely great for Danger Room and Cube in general.

I'm going to be looking for foils of these cards right away. With the exception of the Harbinger of Tides there are all going to be pretty inexpensive cards.

Harbinger of the Tides


A 2cc Man-o'-War that can be cast at instant speed? Sign me up for this in my stack. Will probably cut Riptide Survivor. Survivor was in the Danger Room from the beginning (mainly as a bluff morph because there were only a few good ones from back in the day). All of the sweet megamorphs from the past set have really outclassed him.

Funeral Blade Predator


This card might be a little bit pushed because graveyards tend to fill up pretty fast. Nonetheless, he's not evasive like Guiltfeeder or anything... I love the 3cc 1/4 deathtouch body as an early blocker against fast draws and the fact that he can still be a real threat on offense. I will probably cut Agonizing Demise to make room for this creature.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar


There is kind of a lack of good value creatures in red and I'm pretty happy to find this creature to add to my stack. I can see this card being one of the better cards in the stack as far as power level. It's a cool card though so I think it's worth trying out. Will probably just cut a generic burn spell like Lightning Strike to make room for this card. There isn't a lack of burn spells, but adding a unique card like this adds some real spice.

Blazing Hellhound


Rakdos is one of the weakest guilds to find the last few playable cards for. Blazing Hellhounds seems like a pretty big upgrade to a card like Shambling Remains which tends to be one of (at least in my opinion) the weakest cards in my stack--basically just a placeholder until a better black-red card came around. Pretty excited to try this card out!

Bounding Krasis


What is not to love about Bounding Krasis for Limited? Flash, big body, and a tapper ability? Sounds great to me. I'm probably going to be cutting Zameck Guildmage to make room for this creature. I love my full art Guildmage from Game Day but I think that the Krasis is going to be a more fun and useful card for the deck.

Well, that is the most up-to-date information that I have about my personal Danger Room stack, including the changes I'm anticipating making once Origins hits stores in a few weeks. I hope that you guys enjoy the changes and are enjoying playing the format. If you aren't, give it a try--it's a really, really fun play.

Did I miss anything from the new set for Danger Room? Let me know.

8 thoughts on “Insider: Danger Room Updates

  1. I just started building my battlebox, so I read some articles last week about it (something I would love to play with my son later)

    So my first thought was this article is a shameless copy of the one I read on starcitygames. But then I checked the names, and I was confused by the big difference in pictures ;).

    Do you have data about the cmc distribution and creature vs other spells distribution. It may help me to balance my build.

    I’m certainly going to include all 20 guildmages and as many multicolored charms as possible. Sadly, some of the older charms can harm the manabase, so I need to leave them out.

    1. I try to err on the side of cheaper spells over more expensive spells. It’s pretty annoying to open up a hand that can’t play anything on turn three! I am really heavy on 2 and 3cc drops in my stack.

    1. The most important thing is to create a format that you and your friends enjoy and want to play. Personally, I cut extra lands and LD pretty quickly from my Danger Room. But as long as you have enough stuff to keep it all good and fair from a play perspective I’m sure it is fine. For what it’s worth: your stack looks like it would be fun to play.

  2. How’d you determine what lands to start with in your land stack? Would it be bad to start with 1 of each shock/dual instead? How would that effect gameplay?

    1. Shock lands would make the format much faster. Having lands enter play tapped is a real cost in a format with fixed mana. You have perfect mana but the cost is that in order to get double of one color you have to take a turn off and play a tapped land. You could certainly try it but it would put a huge emphasis on tempo

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