Core Set 2020 is a wonderful reprieve from the intense series of updates that were the War of the Spark and Modern Horizons changes. In fact, Core Set 2020 was a set so light on obvious cube changes that I didn’t run a PTR or record the live Q&A session as there was so little to dig down into. The set is full of cards just under the cusp of power we’ve seen for two releases, which left little to the imagination around what to change.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t come up with a few surprises, and take some time to clean up a few loose ends. Let’s get started.
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So what’s going on here? This update is a lighter touch than the previous two, but that doesn’t mean we’re skipping out on solid swaps. This pass expands the cube slightly, again, while weaving in some fan favorites and readjusting a few other cards to better suit the archetypes in the cube. We’ll hit the one-for-one swaps first before the five card expansion.
There are plenty of bounce creatures in the cube, but Separatist Voidmage is the weakest flavor of them. Cloudkin Seer draws a card, provides evasion, and come down a turn sooner while still playing nice with the flicker and other bounce effects in blue. Blue decks won’t be hurting for bounce effects, but getting an extra draw (or two or three in the right deck) with the Seer should be a subtle bump for villains who enjoy Islands.
Goblin Freerunner has been in an odd spot for some time. As a four-drop it’s a bit underwhelming, and as a card to set up on turn three or turn four is challenging: Holding a cheap burn spell to cast a creature is a restriction on removal players avoid. Freerunner has been filler or cut from decks for some time, so looking for something more useful to try has been a priority. Goblin Smuggler is the right shift here. Now it’s a third turn attacker, adding to the other haste options as three-drops, and provides interesting interactions with other small creatures and sacrifice payoffs (see Bogardan Dragonheart and Phyrexian Ghoul). Clever players should find plenty of value in the Smuggler.
We lost Act of Treason before as it felt underwhelming and situational. Today, the cube has many more sacrifice outlets for the ultimate payoff and has much more aggressive red decks that can use a little Treason to keep the damage flowing. Sparkspitter was an exciting downshift in Ultimate Masters but hasn’t paid off the way we originally thought it would. Discarding cards, even lands, adds up quickly, and while sacrifice payoffs are nice it’s much more situational than the tried and true Treason we all love.
Welcome back, Act of Treason!
Storm Fleet Pyromancer was consistently a point of feedback around red. Five mana is big for decks aiming to cap out at four-drops, and the shock attached was more conditional than we’d prefer. Raid Bombardment feels like another copy of Hissing Iguanar in that it allows red decks to attack even when it’s “not in their advantage” as the additional damage makes the math much better for burn or haste to tip the scales the following turn. Raid Bombardment might look like just a build around kind of card, but the low curve red aggro decks will find this fits in easier than a five drop that might not even pay off.
Safehold Elite was another victim of getting cut as the cube shifted. Putrid Goblin was an exciting addition from Modern Horizons and Safehold Elite is effectively the same: A nice defensive creature that also plays nice with sacrifice payoffs. Travel Preparations doesn’t have any strong synergy in the cube, though I’ll admit “rebuying” a persisted creature is pretty cool the first time you do it. This adjustment shouldn’t shift anything, but does tidy up the options for black-green and white-black decks nicely.
Similarly, another cleanup change up is swapping out Clay Statue for Sickleslicer. Truthfully, Sickleslicer has been a great card for all-commons cubes for some time. With so many more tokens (and plenty of flying as always) in the Pauper Cube it’s clear both the vanilla 2/2 mode and expensive equip cost will have plenty to do. Clay Statue had a great run, lasting nine years in the cube, but the curve of power moved above where a 3/1 with regeneration clocks in. (And, for the record, I have a beautiful Eric Klug altered Clay Statue joining the on-deck binder.)
That leaves just the five card cube expansion to cover.
The top end of white decks is dominated by five mana, three power flying value creatures. There isn’t anything wrong with that per se but what was lacking was a payoff for go-wide white token decks. We’ll see if it holds up over time, but capping out a token deck by making a 7/7 with vigilance Squad Captain should turn a few heads even if it lacks other evasion.
Okay. You win.
Those of you on the “give white-blue a flicker theme” team have won me over. Ephemerate in the Modern Horizons update was a nod to this idea, but Displace explicitly shouts that flickering your creatures is something to do. However, I’m weaving this archetype in cautiously. I don’t plan on porting over the entire flicker archetype deck from Pauper constructed as there’s no way to generate infinite mana in the cube and only two ways to recur Displace are Mnemonic Wall and Izzet Chronarch. And given the choice between Ghostly Flicker and Displace I turn to previous Discord discussions about signpost cards in Limited: For the Pauper Cube, creatures are where you should focus on flickering for value and Displace emphasizes that clearly. Yes, there are cards in the cube that work with Ghostly Flicker, but the goal is clarity and consistency where possible. 95% or more of the time, you’ll be flickering your creatures and not something else.
Let’s take this one step at a time before adding too many “only works with other cards” cards to the cube.
Boneclad Necromancer is five power and toughness for five mana, a fair rate if unimpressive taken in a vacuum. It exiles a creature from any graveyard, which leaves your pile of dead bodies undisturbed for future shenanigans. It isn’t overwhelming in it’s power, but as a value option for sacrifice and control decks you can do much worse. Making tokens has proven both fun and effective in balancing out against two-for-ones from opponents, as well a fueling sacrifice options. Games stay closer and more engaging when both players have ways to recover and diversity their creatures on the battlefield.
It’s hard for me to hide how excited I am by Wildfire Elemental. For a card available only in a Planeswalker deck, it’s at a power level that’s astonishing:
- You don’t have to attack with it. It’s not a one-time or “at the beginning of your combat step” trigger, but open and flexible to the full creativity of timing for using direct damage.
- It pumps all of your creatures, not just those attacking, and it even pumps itself too.
- It costs four mana, a reasonable amount for a low-to-ground red aggro deck. It shouldn’t end up stranded like trying to play a five-drop.
Making combat math difficult, and turning safe blocks into uncertain defending, is where aggressive decks can gain the edge over more powerful control decks. It also makes burn and other direct damage effects more flexible in their use, letting creative players set up truly impressive moments.
Silverback Shaman is generic value. It’s five power with trample for five mana, a solid rate, but also replaces itself when it dies. There isn’t anything more to this, but as a way to give more green-ish midrange decks a solid body I’m quite happy. Punching for better than parity is great.
The Next Steps
If you haven’t joined the Pauper Cube Discord you’re missing out: So many unique discussions around cards, themes, and archetypes happen daily. But better than that, it’s home to a wonderful community of supportive cube enthusiasts who offer great feedback for anyone’s ideas. The Pauper Cube wouldn’t be here without this community, and it’s a privilege to be host to it.
With time on the horizon ahead of the next update (sometime this fall when the set with code name “Archery” is released) there’s space to breathe and get specific feedback for future development. These two archetypes are loosely defined, and while not bad as decks providing some clarity on what they do is something I’m interested in:
- White-Blue is currently value tempo, with flying creatures and plenty of removal (bounce, enchantments, countermagic). Flickering effects (see Ephemerate and Displace) have been coming in but it’s mostly a cute “subarchetype” for experienced players to enjoy. Should this be supported more and, if so, what’s missing to make it work alongside the other colors that pair up with white and blue?
- Black-Red was long just a “anything goes” all-out aggro. Now there’s more support for sacrifice themes and interactions. Should black-red lean into this theme, and if so what does it need to pull it off?
Archetype identities aren’t rails players have to draft on. But they are guiding forces that give every seat in the draft specific cards it can best use while giving context to which cards are invaluable or replaceable in the cube. I look forward to tweaking and improving things even more as we fully understand the massive changes the cube has undergone in the past two months.
Here’s to “Archery” and beyond!