It’s a fact: Ultimate Masters is a reprint set like never before. The power and quality of cards is through the roof, making it an exciting time to rethink Pauper decks and update the Pauper Cube.
One of the benefits of looking at updating the cube when there aren’t over 60 new commons to consider is that existing archetypes and ideas can be refined. With Ravnica Allegiance around the corner I’m reluctant to refit Blue-Green Ramp as we’ll be getting several new Simic cards then. I’d rather see everything the color pair can offer and make changes with the new cards in mind.
But Blue-Red Tempo? That’s Izzet territory, and we have everything we need to amp things up. There’s a few questions I’ll need to answer clearly first.
- What does the ideal blue-red deck look like today?
- What does that deck feel like its missing?
- How does that deck fit into the scheme of color-overlapping archetypes?
I have some work ahead of me, but I’m confident fans like you (clustered on the Pauper Cube Discord) will have some thoughts.
The shining stars of the next update will be the new-to-common cards in Ultimate Masters, and for good reason: They are all solid cards in their own right.
Unlike most Masters sets, there’s a whopping 20 new commons in Ultimate Masters. Discussing each of them, especially when it’s obviously not a new or noteworthy effect for the cube, would be overwhelming. Like most Quick Hits, I’ll focus on the first-pass stand out cards that I’m definitely taking a closer look at. But, also like other Quick Hits, this list is by no means exhaustive or 100% confirmed for an update.
So let’s roll.
Skyspear Cavalry is quite the heavy hitter! Outside of Guardian of the Guildpact I’m hard-pressed to think of another evasive creature that’s better at picking up Vulshok Morningstar. But, without many pump effects it reads closer to a 4/2 with flying than a terrifying foe.
Considering other top-heavy creatures like Alpine Grizzly aren’t here I’m not sure I see this Cavalry charge in.
Tethmos High Priest is an excellent build-around-me card. Small creatures, combat tricks and the grit to keep attacking feels like an excellent fit with the Pauper Cube. But there are two reasons other heroic cards haven’t made the cut so far:
- Heroic cares when you cast a spell targeting it, not when any spell heads it way. That means you need enough beneficial spells and tricks to make the most of it, something the Pauper Cube generally lacks in volume.
- The value of heroic is best when heroic cards stick around long enough to be targeted repeatedly. Theros Block Limited was notorious for big, slow, clunky removal, which is pretty much the exact opposite of the Pauper Cube.
The upcoming live Q&A session for patrons might change my mind, but as cool as High Priest is I just don’t see it wiggling its way in. Now Pauper Constructed tournaments is another story…
Wandering Champion is among the best versions of Blade of the Sixth Pride printed. While I believe Daring Skyjek is better (evasion is awesome) the potential to nudge white-blue and red-white in interesting ways is nice.
While the Champion only offering “rummaging” rather than strict card draw, card selection is definitely worthwhile in aggressive decks.
Foil is back! Commander players everyone can rejoice that an emergency stop button is back with another foil printing. There’s never been a Force of Will equivalent at common before, and like Tethmos High Priest this card will help reshape the Pauper format.
For the Pauper Cube the water is much murkier. There’s few things so overwhelming powerful you have to stop it before it resolve. Every creature can be killed or removed, but I’ll grant artifacts and enchantments are much harder to handle in general. Blue already has access to solid countermagic, including the iconic Counterspell, and throwing away both a land and another card is a steep price for control decks. I need to take a much closer look to understand what Foil really costs against what it really offers.
Moan of the Unhallowed makes two 2/2 Zombie creature tokens for a fair cost, then adds on flashback because sure why not. This is a phenomenal card with so many sacrifice outlets and payoffs around, and a great defensive card for slower decks that comes with payoff making it to the late game.
Looks like brains are back on the menu.
Slum Reaper is removal. Slum Reaper is a creature. Slum Reaper can make a humble 1/1 token “trade” with something much better. Thanks to the recent tweaks to give white-black and black-green a sacrifice theme to play off all of the token creatures. something like Slum Reaper looks like a home run.
Reckless Wurm completes the downshift of the colorshifted card Arrogant Wurm, itself downshifted to common for the Magic Online set Vintage Masters. The Arrogant one had a brief stay in the cube four years ago, but without reliable (that is, a sufficient number of) discard outlets it was just a average-to-weak five-drop. We’d have to be reckless to add Reckless now.
For aggressive decks it offers flood insurance and combat tricks like setting up an attack by using Sparksplitting during the opponent’s end step (and therefore delaying the trigger until your end step) and again the the main phase to offer 6 attacking trample out of nowhere. For tempo decks, like blue-red, it offers pressure and 3 power blockers at instant speed—whichever you might need.
The more I think about the potential of Sparksplitter the more I like it.
Miming Slime is an interesting card since green is the color that can access the biggest creatures. Ramping to an Eldrazi or 7/7 gets even more terrifying when you make a token creature that’s just as big. The two main issues I see with the Slime are both blockers.
- It has a mana cost of three, meaning we’d need to be making at least something that’s a 4/4 to gain mana efficiency over Centaur Courser.
- It’s conditional, giving the opponent a chance to kill the biggest creature in response to leave us with a dud.
Miming Slime reads well, but the potential upside takes a lot more work than the average case looks to yield.
Dimir Guildmage is bonkers. It’s a two-drop for blue and black decks that has unbounded card drawing and discarding stapled on. Dimir Guildmage was a great pick up for Dimir draft decks back in Ravnica: City of Guilds and it looks great for Pauper too. While I’m not such a big fan of repeatable discard effects as they lead to feel-bad gameplay situations, the upside comes with adding a card that can draw control decks to victory in a fair way.
It’s safe to say I like Dimir Guildmage, but finding a spot for it is going to be hard.
Fire // Ice is among the most exciting cards I’ve every seen downshifted to common. The Fire side is Twin Bolt (or alternatively Chandra's Pyrohelix) while the Ice side is a more powerful Enervate. Neither of those individual cards are in the cube, so why would we care about Fire // Ice?
Flexibility is important. Fire // Ice is a flexible blue-red card that can be played by decks of either or both colors, and has a low enough mana cost for valuable tempo effects that are serviceable. It isn’t that Fire // Ice will make or break a deck, but that Fire // Ice will almost always make the cut of every deck that can play it.
Flexibility isn’t just important: it’s powerful.
Bonus: Reprint Mode Activate
One of the coolest “side” features of Ultimate Masters is just how many Pauper Cube cards are reprinted in the set. If you’ve been itching to get some foil copies of cube staples you should hang around the drafts in your local game store and pick up some goodies.
Here’s a (probably not) exhaustive list of cards in the Pauper Cube already getting a fresh print in Ultimate Masters:
- Basking Rootwalla
- Bloodflow Connoisseur
- Death Denied
- Faith's Fetters
- Gods Willing
- Gurmag Angler
- Hissing Iguanar
- Hooting Mandrills
- Last Gasp
- Prey Upon
- Pulse of Murasa
- Reckless Charge
- Scuzzback Marauders
- Stitched Drake
- Terramorphic Expanse
- Travel Preparations (added from the Ultimate Masters update)
- Treasure Cruise
- Ulamog's Crusher
- Walker of the Grove
- Wild Mongrel
That’s a nice set of cards to have in foil!
If you missed the news earlier this year, thanks to the success (and number) of patrons supporting the Pauper Cube on Patreon, each update comes with a patron-exclusive live Q&A session ahead of the update! For Ultimate Masters, that session will be help on Sunday, November 25 at 2 PM Eastern.
Every patron qualifies to join in the discussion—just make sure you’re logged in and have any reward tier selected on the main Pauper Cube Patreon page, then check you’ve connected your Discord account for the rewards. You’ll see the patron-only channels of the Pauper Cube discord and will be able to join in.
I look forward to one of the most powerful updates in a long time.