There are, as of the Dominaria update, eight Un-cards in the Pauper cube.
Each card serves a purpose, filling a niche ability and role supporting the guiding archetypes players can draft. They are also among the most contentious cards included.
@the_stybs Do you think you are gonna add some unstable to the pauper cube? I think it could be amusing, and carnivorous death parrot can finally have a silver bordered buddy 🙂
— Ben Derfy (@ben_derfy) December 9, 2017
Every cube is full of personal decisions, and as a fan of silver-bordered Magic I’ve chosen to include those sets’ commons for consideration.
Un-Fun Can Be Unfun
There are good reasons Wizards struggled to sell Unhinged: It just wasn’t as fun as it could be. Have you ever actually read Number Crunch?
No, it doesn’t have the modern “non-land” bounce rider. Yes, it’s an instant that’s both three mana and splashable. Yes, it’s a common.
Try playing a game of Magic without saying any numbers. It’s not great, because I played such games with my friends when Unhinged was new. The entire “Gotcha” mechanic was amusing for some, but the idea of being punished for communicating clearly with opponents was frustrating at best. Countering these kinds of cards led players to:
- Play silently, using non-verbal communication exclusively
- Disengage from opponents to avoid reacting with laughter or other “Gotcha” triggers
- Miscommunication as specific sequences and actions were unclear due to handicapped communication
In power level sense, Number Crunch is a slam dunk Pauper cube addition. It was cut early in the earliest of primordial testing because it was abuse to players. It was awful game play for everyone. When long-time players recalled Unhinged, the searing experience of being under a Number Crunch lock or someone that could loop Handcuffs over and over would come flooding back. It took a decade-and-a-half for Wizards to try publishing a silly Magic set again with Unstable. We banned cards in Standard five times between Un-set releases.
When Un-fun is unfun it’s bad. So why do I choose to put Un-cards into the cube?
Unbelievable Power. Unbelievable Costs.
Un-sets get to break many of Magic‘s rules. Mana costs, power balancing and how mechanics actually function can explore territory and interactions that “regular” sets can’t. Even all this time after Unhinged was printed we still don’t have a blue 2/2 with flying for two mana without a significant drawback.
In the contact of Unhinged game play, Carnivorous Death-Parrot would trigger “Gotcha” on several powerful cards. Isolated in the Pauper cube, it’s “a flying blue Grizzly Bear with an upkeep cost of 0.” That‘s what I keep an eye on Un-cards and look to add them to the cube: You can get something standout that’s too good for a “real” Magic set.
Not every Un-card is as clean as the Death-Parrot. Consider Squirrel Dealer.
One green mana to make two 1/1 creatures is incredible rate. One of these creatures is even a card, not a token, so bouncing doesn’t answer it! But if you ardently follow the rules then you’re on the hook for knowing the nearest squirrel fan for inquiry. Unlike the Death-Parrot, this involves both other people and others’ subjective responses. You’re not in control of whether this is just a weak one-drop or amazing beginning for a tokens deck. And that doesn’t get into how other cards can ask a cube owner to entirely upend their choices.
While players expecting Un-cards to get cut soon are in for disappointment, there are specific ways to balance and adapt these handful of cards to more discerning play groups.
Play Un-Cards As Intended
Un-cards are included for obvious reasons. Each is powerful or useful for archetypes, and can be played prima facie—exactly as you’d read it to be.
- Squirrel Dealer? It just makes the Squirrel token.
- Carnivorous Death-Parrot? Just acknowledge it during your upkeep.
- Selfie Preservation? It’s just Rampant Growth.
Can’t you rule that they all have tree (even if no tree on it?) as for the death parrot is an upkeep cost of 0?
— E_mouchet (@e_mouchet) December 14, 2017
It isn’t a secret that a one-drop creating two creatures is strong, or having a second copy of Rampant Growth to work with is redundancy that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Just play it like it should be is my go-to way to address concerns from players directly. You don’t have to do anything really special, but generally giving a nod to the spirit of the card is appreciated. It’s simple, and it works.
Swap Un-Cards For An Appropriate Replacement
Every Un-card is an echo of a “real” Magic card. It isn’t challenging to identify an appropriate replacement to have on hand when players are adamant about silver borders.
- Ordinary Pony can be Acrobatic Maneuver or Cloud Shift.
- Chivalrous Chevalier can be Supply-Line Cranes or another efficient white five-drop with flying.
- GO TO JAIL has numerous removal spells for consideration.
- Carnivorous Death-Parrot can be Cloudskate or Gossamer Phantasm.
- Extremely Slow Zombie can be Blind Creeper or Wretched Anurid.
- Common Iguana can be Tormenting Voice or Cathartic Reunion.
- Squirrel Dealer can be Chatter of the Squirrel.
- Selfie Preservation can be Farseek or Into the North (which begs its own choice of basic lands)
The flexibility of Magic to have cards for almost any situation should never be underestimated.
Kill Your Darlings
Finally, if you find juggling modest house rules or hot-swapping cards in the cube based solely on who showed up this week a burden then I suggest the nuclear option: Permanently cut them and including something you want instead. Cubes are awesome not because they’re all the same but because they’re all different. Great ideas and actionable feedback for the Pauper cube has come from players taking a fork down a different path, including excluding the use of any Un-cards.
While I won’t be making that call anytime in the foreseeable future, your flavor of the cube can be exactly what your group needs. Relax, take a breath, and have fun. That’s what silver-bordered cards are supposed to do!