Ultimate Masters was packed full of 20 new-to-common downshifted cards, plus 20 more reprints of awesome commons already in the Pauper Cube. Here’s what’s changing with the latest Masters release.
|4||2/2 Zombie||Moan of the Unhallowed||Add|
|2||3/1 Spark Elemental||Sparkspitter||Add|
Encouraging cool things to do in the cube is always on my mind. Archetypes and powerful cards aside, I’m always open to feedback about what colors and decks can do. Mnemonic Wall is a fan (and personal) favorite that was cut to help support aggressive decks years ago. With many powerful one-drop and two-drop creatures in the cube from more recent sets, I think it’s time to bring back a little splash of power.
To make room, the “usually fine” Aven Surveyor gets the boot. There’s plenty of bounce spells to go around still.
We added sacrifice outlets and payoffs to black this year. Then, Ultimate Masters downshifted a great Zombie token spell: Moan of the Unhallowed. Like with Chainer's Edict the upfront cost is fine so the expensive flashback option is gravy. Unfortunately, the imminently fun but disappointingly weak Extremely Slow Zombie heads out. I’m going to miss a Zombie wearing Santa’s hat staring back at me in drafts.
What’s a great way to take advantage of extra tokens and sacrifice payoffs in the cube? Add Slum Reaper as one of the new-to-common cards! Stronghold Confessor straddled the odd spot as a one-drop that wasn’t played as a one-drop and three-drop with menace that was quickly outclassed. Aggressive decks with black have other options to lean into, and control decks won’t put their faith into menace as the best evasion. Now, we get to reap some tokens instead.
- Red decks, including blue-red and black-red, really appreciate a mana dump that also puts pressure on the opponent.
- Red-black decks have many ways to take advantage of token creatures that self-destruct at the end of the turn.
- Waiting until your opponent’s end step to create an Elemental means you can untap with it and create another, putting 6 power of trample into an attack out of nowhere.
- If you drafted Hissing Iguanar you need to grab Sparkspitter too!
Fortunately, the “just okay” Frilled Deathspitter volunteered to hand over the spitter mantle to the new champion.
“Guideposts” are cards in a draft, often multicolor, that point players to what they color combination should be doing. While the live Q&A for Ultimate Masters volunteered Sonic Assault as a guidepost for blue-red decks, its power level feels low compared to the flashier (and more recognizable) Goblin Electromancer. Storm decks, and spell combos in general, aren’t in the cube, but casting spells aggressively to gain tempo and push damage through is something blue-red does well. Electromancer is soft support for a wider range of what blue-red decks do, from aggressive tempo to slower control-style builds.
So what’s going on with these five cards? They’re all going into the cube.
- Dimir Guildmage is new-to-common and one of the few (only?) unbounded ways to draw cards (or make opponents discard) at common. This is an easy-to-play card that tells blue-black players exactly what they should do: Grind out value and take control. I can’t imagine not fitting this into the cube.
- Travel Preparations was just cut, and now it’s back! It’s a powerful card for creature-heavy decks, beefing up tokens and making it tough for opponents to trade at parity. Also, nothing else at common for green-white felt as low risk, high reward as Preparations.
- Golgari Rotwurm is an excellent signpost card for black-green decks: You should sacrifice creatures for value. As a 5/4 it’s big enough to close out a game quickly too.
- Fire // Ice is a beautiful card that fits right into what blue-red decks do with spells. Clearing blockers, dealing damage, or tapping a permanent while drawing a card are all options off Fire // Ice, and I can’t imagine a deck playing both blue and red that wouldn’t run this every time.
- Fresh-Faced Recruit is the weakest link here by far, but among all the red-white cards at common it’s a great signpost for what those decks do: Attack! Youthful Knight and Zada's Commando were both serviceable in their time, and bringing back another two-drop, 2 power first strike attacker for those decks will do. This is one slot that will need to be monitored.
But that doesn’t explain what’s being cut for these cards. The answer is that nothing is being cut for them. With Ravnica Allegience offering five more guilds of commons for the next update, changing and adding five more multicolor cards will balance this out shortly.
A quick history lesson: The first iteration of the Pauper Cube, its initial primal state, was meant to be the “Pauper Multicolor Cube” and lean into multicolor cards. That was late 2008 and it was filled with weak cards and weaker gameplay. While Eric Klug helped tune it towards the first version of the Pauper Cube, I’ve never shied away from celebrating multicolor commons. The power level of cards, and density of picks that can make the cut in a deck, mean there’s rarely a time your final deck is hungry for more cards. A tiny fraction more multicolor won’t weaken the overall draft but will also help guide a few more players into what they should be doing if they’re in a color pair.
And we won’t necessarily have to cut our darlings, like we did with Guilds of Ravnica either.
But adding more cards doesn’t mean we can’t look elsewhere to tune the Pauper Cube up.
- Runed Servitor is a fine filler card as a two-drop, but it’s rarely making the cut of a final deck anyway. There’s other two-drop colorless options to help smooth a draft still in the cube, so this one can go.
- Mobile Garrison is fun! Attacking and keeping something back on defense is a nice way to use smaller creatures, but like many artifacts the Garrison doesn’t read or play as powerfully as other options. This isn’t a scary or impressive card at any point in gameplay.
- Guardian Automaton gives you life on the way out of play, but the recently added Peace Strider generously offers it upfront. Automaton is a bit superfluous and can be trimmed away.
- Sphere of the Suns is arguably one of the best ways to curve out in a three-color-or-more deck. As I’ve moved away from encouraging “multicolor good stuff” decks, and there’s plenty of other ways to fix and ramp mana, we’ll take this one out of the mix.
- Strip Mine is both expensive and the last of the “technically a common by a print sheet but not recognized or colloquially referred to as a common” common to be in the cube. This is easy cleanup, though I’ll miss having it as the fifteenth land in my ultra aggressive red-white decks.
These five cards aren’t being cut to make room for more multicolored cards, but that these fives are truly superfluous to the overall experience. Cutting away at under-performing and least-used cards took out slower mana fixing and plenty of other cards over the years. I expect more feedback about cards that make less sense to continue in the future.
The Next Steps
So where does the cube go next? Ravnica Allegiance will offer an opportunity to balance the color pairs again, but a question that’s being asked more and more often is “Do all ten color pairs need to be balanced equally?” Shaping a draft format doesn’t necessarily mean being slavish to symmetrical numbers, but obviously there’s good reasons it’s one of the things Wizards has continued to use year after year for set design. Torment had more black cards, then Judgment had more white and green cards, and then they never skewed sets that hard again in the 16 years since.
I’m 100% sure some of you will have strong opinions on this update, so I hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts. Be sure to swing by the Pauper Cube Discord community, or at least Twitter, to let me know what you think of the latest changes and point out anything I missed! If you haven’t already, consider becoming a patron of the Pauper Cube to get in on the update discussion live when Ravnica Allegiance hits this January. This wild ride is only halfway over.