It’s no secret that War of the Spark was a massive shakeup for the Pauper Cube. In our new Magic set design world, Standard sets will now “have more interesting commons” available which seemed to have translated to more powerful commons. So it begged a question: What would the commons look like if a set was designed for play outside of Standard?
Modern Horizons answered it with an even larger set of powerful cards to the consider for the cube. In fact, it was so many cards that we broke it up into a Part One and Part Two so it was easier to read and consider the possibilities. It also led to a three hour marathon live Q&A session with patrons (and I again apologize for mucking up the audio recording on my end):
The end result after taking in feedback and reconsidering the preliminary update sketched out (plus the insight the Modern Horizons PTR provided) was one of the largest single set updates in Pauper Cube history. Let’s get into it.
|2||2/2 Bear||Mother Bear||Add|
|2||3/3 Elephant||Trumpeting Herd||Add|
|1||1/1 Vampire||Paladin of the Bloodstained||Cut|
|1||1/1 Servo||Peema Outrider||Cut|
Let’s start with the “easier” part: Adding ten more cards to the cube. On one hand our cube is fairly trim and tight, having settled down to 409 cards for quite some time and making updates both tough and full of hard choices. Modern Horizons is a rare Magic set where the power level of the commons we’re looking at is so high it doesn’t take away from the tight choices in the cube to add more cards. In fact, all of the additions support existing play strategies and provide exciting options. (And, of course, it’s an even set of two additional cards for each of the five colors.)
Ephemerate is the official nod to transitioning white-blue from “tempo fliers” to “flicker and bounce value” as an archetype. More shifts will happen in the future, but the value of double Cloudshift is too much to ignore. Similarly, with one-drops and token-making two-drops plentiful for white and white-red aggro decks, Martyr's Soul will be a massive third or fourth turn play from some decks. You’ve been warned.
Scour All Possibilities and Rain of Revelation are powerful card drawing and filtering effects, something that’s been lacking in blue in the cube. Instant speed Sift and a Preordain with flashback are great effects that will easily slot into decks.
Putrid Goblin is similar to several other creatures in black already, fueling sacrifice payoffs and playing the part of speed bump against faster decks. Gluttonous Slug is a nod to the strength of Disowned Ancestor as a card that can block early but pay off later in the game. The Slug will naturally grow with just about any sequence of creatures afterwards, and eventually force the opponent to answer or fall to a massive, menacing crawler.
Giving red depth beyond just drafting burn spells is tough. I settled on efficient creatures with haste as red’s motif, and both of these serve that purposes. Orcish Hellraiser is a fine play on the second or third turn, thanks to the plentiful one- and two-drops available. Even better, it hits the opponent on the way out too and helps keep pressure on even when it gets outclassed. Viashino Sandsprinter pushes aggro further with a powerful attacker for the mana, and one that trades well against some of the larger creatures. Trample means a 1/1 token to chump isn’t going to be enough to slow the damage down, again a feature red can leverage best.
Mother Bear might look cute, but getting three 2/2 creatures out of one two-drop is a nice balance of support for ramp decks (more speedbumps) and black-green sacrifice decks (more things to throw away). Savage Swipe is strictly better Prey Upon, a staple green removal spell for any Pauper cube.
Rhox Veteran is a card I had to read five times to “get” what it really says. Supporting white’s go-wide tokens and aggro strategies with a beefy 2/4 that will likely take a oduble block to take out is a nice boost. Paladin of the Bloodstained is among the weaker four-drop creatures, and shouldn’t slow down token decks by going away.
Reprobation is similar to Kasmina's Transmutation, though obviously weaker given white’s access to all sorts of similar effects. The value here is the mana efficiency, which is far better than Isolation Zone.
One of the cards I consistently received questions about is Sheer Drop. Most players just used it as an awkward three-mana removal spell. I found it was great in slower control decks as a late-game “creature” that killed an opponent’s creature. It also combined well with the three one-drop tappers. However, Settle Beyond Reality hits both the “late-game removal spell” slot but adds on a flicker effect for value. Since you can choose either or both modes, I think this gimmicky card will play out well as a top-end for white-blue and white-black decks.
Poor Augur of Bolas. It’s hard to hit the right amount of instants and sorceries in a Limited deck for it to pay off consistently, but the fact that when it did pay off early it was a house kept it in the cube longer than it should have. Faerie Seer slots in a similar spot, albeit trading blocking for more consistent card selection for the following turn. “Scry 2” is becoming one of my favorite lines of text on a creature!
Another card that regularly received grief was Gryff Vanguard, a solid creature living in a world where it will be endlessly (and unfavorably) compared to Mulldrifter. It’s not remotely fair given Mulldrifter has been reprinted at uncommon in both Modern Masters (2013) and Modern Masters 2015, the only two Limited formats it’s been seen in since Lorwyn. (It even got the bump up to uncommon in Commander 2018 when previous Commander releases kept it at its original common rarity!) Pondering Mage is a nice-sized body attached to an arguably better cantrip effect. I think nothing is quite like Mulldrifter, but Pondering Mage is a fine consolation prize.
Defile doesn’t quite explicitly ask you to play more Swamps, but it will pay off better than similar effects the later in the game you draw it. I don’t want to encourage mono-black control as an archetype, though on the back of black having the best removal in the cube its certainly possible. Devour Flesh, and all of the “Edict” effects for that matter, have been getting worse as more and more token-creating creatures enter the cube. It was time for one of black’s weaker removal spells to go.
Both Silumgar Scavenger and Vulturous Aven play into black’s sacrifice theme. The Aven is a fine card, but the Scavenger becomes an immediate and growing threat. Black has gotten a few more ways to draw extra cards since the time Vulturous Aven was added, and I think upgrading it to a finisher is a fine switch.
The best way I’ve heard Gray Merchant of Asphodel described in the cube recently has been “it’s just fine.” Gary isn’t a bad card, but black decks have needed a little more top-end for some time. First-Sphere Gargantua will likely draw you two cards if you get to play it once, and swapping Gary out nudges players away from the idea of “play all the black cards” as an archetype. (Though, admittedly, Defile coming in does muddle this point somewhat.)
Ah Ahn-Crop Invader, we hardly knew you. Bogardan Dragonheart isn’t quite the same card as the Invader can scale up to kill something with 5 or more toughness, but haste and a 4/4 body without requiring open mana is a huge step up in supporting red having some sacrifice payoffs to play nice with tokens and black’s theme.
I wasn’t sold on Quakefoot Cyclops at first. Why would I want an awkward Falter when I can just kill things? After gutting the biggest creatures from red in the War of the Spark update I could admit red needed a little top-end love in the cube. The Cyclops helps an aggressive deck keep going, and a 4/4 body isn’t too small to matter after untapping. Conversely, the burn spell with the biggest gap between awesome and awful was Thunderous Wrath, which punished players unfamiliar with the miracle mechanic and was often stranded in hands from decks that shaved a land given the rest of the curve.
Harrow was cut because encouraging three-or-more color decks wasn’t a goal of the cube. They still worked and, honestly, play out surprisingly well with the most recent takes on mana ramping but helping green feel better curving out and getting lands has been an important way to make green-blue ramp decks work. Elvish Rejuvenator would, rarely, whiff and could, in theory, nab a dual land you drafted. Now, Springbloom Druid will always net you an additional land (still tapped) but shouldn’t be picked up by strict value decks as being both a sorcery (unlike Harrow) and putting lands onto the battle tapped (unlike Harrow) should play out well.
Trumpeting Herd is 6 power and toughness for four mana. The value and efficiency is hard to deny. Peema Outrider has been one of the weaker token-making creature for some time, making this upgrade easy.
This change is one tipped off by the live Q&A with patrons! Winding Way is a card I overlooked completely in the set, but as a way to give green decks flexible options for its archetypes was the selling point given to be. For ramp, you can play it early and ensure you keep hitting your land drops. For other decks, green is the color with the most creatures which means any base-green deck should be able to dig to solid bodies. Citanul Woodreaders has long been a green creature dedicated to ramp decks. Early on it’s a solid blocker and late in the game it picks you up two cards for the kicker. Winding Way should play out with more consistency, and green-blue ramp has many newer blockers in blue to use for early defense.
The Next Steps
Core Set 2020 preview season is in full swing, so the hits for the cube just aren’t slowing down. Check back soon for even more Pauper Cube discussion, or join in the fun discussing cards as they’re revealed over on the Pauper Cube Discord!