Fifteen Card Singularity: Official (Re-)Introduction

Hello Fellow Magicians! Even though I am such a great procrastinator, I am taking a break from that to finally write a primer for this crazy format I like to call Fifteen Card Singularity.

For more on this format (previously refered to as Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube), see:

In the many months since Corey and I unleashed it to the world, the social medium has responded with a flurry of conversation! I intend to resolve some of the most common concerns people have voiced. I will also describe my design philosophy for this environment, which should account for my most surprising inclusions and exclusions. And since we here have had quite a bit of time experimenting with (within?) this cube, I will give a much-needed update about emergent strategies and future developments!

But first, I need to explain my new name I gave to this format. The original name for this cube format is the same as its non-cube predecessor, Fifteen Card Highlander. Now, that name has a lot going for it. We know it’s a singleton format thanks to the nostalgic EDH format we all love. (Take note: that name is obsolete too!) And then we know it has something to do with fifteen cards. It’s a no-frills name that resonates intuitively with our current conventions. But … did you see that thing up in the sky?

Arcades Sabboth needs a change of pants!

You can yell “There can be only one!” as much as you want at that thing, but it probably already knows that. Or it knows you’re wrong and it doesn’t care to correct you. Who knows! Fifteen Card Singularity is like that. It’s not very nice, and it’s very weird.

When this format and v1.0 of my list was made public, there were some common and completely legitimate worries about certain “problem cards” and it was debated whether any of them should get the proverbial axe. The most scrutinized cards were the mill package, Breaking//Entering, Chancellor of the Spires, Codex Shredder, and Dream Twist. Chancellor has the dirtiest, luckiest turn zero play in the cube. If I had to get rid of one of these four, this would be the one. But, after paying close attention to each of these mill cards, I can say with total confidence that none of them are banworthy! In fact, I go one step beyond that. These cards belong in the environment, and removing them would make the environment less healthy. In order to defend this point, we need to carefully examine how the Ux Control archetype adapts to this environment.

Ux Control, as currently understood, does not exist in Fifteen Card Singularity. After turn 8 or so, generating card advantage by drawing cards is not possible. Ux Control prefers to play its threats while still keeping mana open for a counterspell effect. When the entire deck only has 5-7 lands, it’s impossible or at least unreasonable to cast the finisher like this. The archetype is too expansive for this small-scale format. This fact has far-reaching implications, a chain of consequences, an inescapable chain, that should ultimately lead to all in doubt casting the better half of Breaking//Entering with certainty!

The argument goes as follows. First, the Ux control archetype disappears. The motivation for (and the validity of) casting counterspells is decreased. All but the most unfair counterspells are removed from the environment. Blue slots are open and waiting for replacements! Meanwhile, two card combos across the entirety of Magic prepare to enter the cube, seeing that their chance of being their-kind-of-broken is increased.

“With that thought on the stack, Metabrainstorm!”

The rest of the metaverse is heard muttering sentiments of strong disapproval. We’re pretty sure Metabrainstorm doesn’t even cost a blue mana.

Chancellor of the Spires!”

Here’s an effect that we can agree doesn’t cost a blue mana!

A skeptic would argue that this card would already be in consideration, and the bad combos should have seen it coming, but that would be missing the entire point. Almost by accident, a class of cards rises to fill the vacuum created when “Counter target spell” isn’t quite good enough. And with mill cards now in mind, consider the similarities between the two effects: (1) they can answer almost any card (and neither can answer our favorite alien); (2) they cannot answer any card on the battlefield; and, (3) in their own ways, their biggest weak point is that they cannot reliably answer an opponent’s first two turns. Oh, and (4) neither of them are win conditions, a similarity that is only true in this format…

…which brings us back to the original question about the mill effects! These are counterspells in disguise, breaking up flimsy combos in individual games and in the environment itself. You say the Chancellor strips me of my library, but I say I still have half of my cards! Mountain. Goblin Guide. Attack. This is coming from more than blind optimism! In testing, dedicated mill decks repeatedly lose to aggressive decks of all types, even when they mill for seven. Against an aggressive deck, the correct thing to do is to side all of the mill effects out after losing the first game. Assuming you drafted some other cards to replace them, I hope.

If you’re still with me, I have just claimed that there is not a single card that is too powerful for this format. This leads to the second most controversial feature of v1.0 of my cube list. If nothing is too powerful for this format, why no Moxes? The Moxes are ridiculously powerful artifacts. With a fifteen-card deck, they speed up mana production (inversely) proportionally more than in 40-card environments. Powerful enough to be banned? No, I would wager not. The problem with them is that there are five of them! This is a small cube at 160 cards, and as a result it hates cycles of similar cards. Adding a five-card cycle essentially reduces the number of different effects by four. In a cube of this size, that is 2.5% fewer effects! I considered including just one colored Mox in order to have the Mox effect, but which one? The oldest and most established argument in favor of a specific Mox is the interaction between Mox Pearl and Balance.

This goes way back!

But, to include Mox Pearl at the expense of the other Moxes (Moxi? Moxen? … Whatever!) might be sending the wrong impression … right?

To change topics, I do have one apology. When I get around to posting v1.1 of this cube, I guarantee that the cycle of Time Spiral storage lands will be removed. I originally thought the mana fixing would be necessary, but I got sick of seeing these boring cards in packs! Considering my reservations about adding the Mox cycle to the cube, adding this cycle is the one mistake I admit to! In all fairness, I had many seemingly good reasons for including these five as the foundation of mana bases. First, there are only the five, rather than other ten-card cycles like “The Duals”. I hope no argument is needed to agree that ten is too many. Then I’d have to decide which five to keep, probably choosing between the so-called “allied” and “enemy” color pairs. Putting it like that, I suppose one sounds much nicer than the other. Except this is not a nice format, so maybe include the other five? Oh, and RTR gives precedent for designing an environment around more exotic half-enemy-half-friend cycles. But then…

None of this waffling is consistent with a Singularity format! And why would it care about an RTR, whatever that is? It doesn’t. To conclude the discussion about meta-exiling the last remaining cycle from this format, it is correct to do so. But how could we soften the attack on our now almost entirely basic mana bases? First, and most surprisingly, basic lands are not that bad in these small decks! Any non-aggro strategy should have no problem finding the right mana. And aggro decks pass on those storage lands anyway. Another more interesting reason to keep boring mana fixing at a minimum is that it forces drafters to draft cards that are outside of their expected colors. In a normal cube format, this might be viewed as unfun. In this format, it means that players are encouraged (forced) to have more varied effects waiting in their sideboards. Sideboarding for game two can be as wild as building an entirely new deck, so a variety of effects is preferred over sub-par mana fixing in the wrong colors.

That’s all very nice, except there is a nagging feeling that I could find some mana fixing that isn’t cyclic or horrible. In terms of pure fixing, nothing can beat Mana Confluence, so I shifted my search to effects that produce a more dramatic effect than that. Maybe something that filters more than one mana, or accelerates and filters? The most irritating mana costs are ones that have two of the same colored mana, and even Mana Confluence isn’t especially good at solving that problem. Doing a quick search for “Untap target land”, the card I finally found left me underwhelmed.

Obviously a complete pile of trash, I am positive.

My intent in these recent paragraphs was to drag you, the reader, through the grimy undercurrents of this environment. Every design, be it a tournament deck, a cube list, or an entirely different game, has a ragged boundary where improvement seems possible but is not yet found. The boundary takes many forms, and this article’s most basic goal has been to make it as tangible as I can. This is still a new environment, and it has its weird consequences, and its own kind of fun, and its untapped strategies. It’s due for more Metabrainstorms in the future, but all of these criticisms are the result of looking at the boundary with the finest detail. As a whole, it’s already good enough!

Without giving too much away too soon, an exciting development emerged from all of these thoughts. After seeing Black Lotus wreck game after game (in a good way!), I could not stand that this format had to reject the Mox cycle. They combo with all spells! So I started to imagine how to smuggle them in. The continuation of this thought process led to a new format that might be viewed as an extension of this one. But I believe it is healthier to think of the Singularity as an old, restrictive version of this new format that I will keep secret for a little longer! Until then…

Adieu! Adieu!