I can't speak for everyone, but I for one am happy that the Magic Online Holiday 2012 Cube is over. I've seen enough screenshots of mono-red players losing on turn 3 for one lifetime. I understand that this kind of Magic is really fun for some, but I enjoy a much different way of gaming.
For those of us not battling in the Player's Championship, Cube generally isn't played for very high stakes. For the most part, drafting a cube is a pretty casual exercise, and the idea of booting up Magic Online to casually turn 2 a stranger with Force of Will backup is about the worst plan I could think of for my Tuesday nights. I'd much rather be slowly grinding Dana Kinsella out of a game that he thought he was winning turns earlier.
Cue Pauper Cube.
For those unfamiliar, a Pauper format uses only cards that have ever been printed at common in a physical set. This aspect is awesome for those interested in building a cube without a massive budget. That said, budget is far from the only reason to play Pauper Cube. It really is an awesome format in itself. If you've ever played Constructed Pauper, then you're well aware that common is not analogous to weak.
What I like about Pauper Cube is that by utilizing only commons it's considerably easier to maintain a relatively tight power band. That is to say that very few of the cards stand out as being considerably stronger than the others. When I open my first pack in a draft, I get the greatest joy from the feeling that any of the cards would make a fine first pick. I don't get this feeling very often playing Powered Cube, particularly when it comes to packs that feature Ancestral Recall. Ancestral Recall and Sol Ring are always going to be the best cards in decks that feature them.
That's not to say that absolutely no cards stand out in Pauper Cube. For example, it's rare for me to pass Mulldrifter pack 1 pick 1, but having strict equality across the power of all the cards in a cube worth drafting is impossible.
Without further ado, here is the list: Ryan's Pauper Cube.
I approached each color from the standpoint that it needed to be possible to be aggressive or controlling with any color combination. Some color pairs are more inclined to go one way than the other, but the possibility to go either direction is there. Each color also features an amalgamation of abstractly powerful cards in addition to cards aimed at promoting certain strategies. Individual color identities break down as follows:
White is the color in the cube that is geared the most toward drafting "good stuff" decks because it has a lot of powerful creatures in addition to a slew of solid removal. Seraph of Dawn is easily on the short list of the most powerful cards in the cube, but white definitely goes deeper than just jamming good cards.
White is probably the best color for an artifact-heavy deck to be in for a number of reasons. A metalcrafted Ghalma's Warden is close to as big as things get, and Remember the Fallen has taken me on some tremendous trips to value town.
What's nice about white is that it does everything well but doesn't ever do anything that's too good. It attacks well, blocks well, interacts with opponents well, and adds a good level of complexity to combat with cards like Kabuto Moth and mechanics like exalted. It also contributes cards like Benevolent Bodyguard, which really help to liven up the cube's metagame, but more on that later.
Blue was a pretty tough color to balance. There was no way I was going to exclude card drawing spells, as that's where most of blue's power comes from, but this meant that other aspects of the color would need balancing. For the most part, I didn't give blue a lot of cards that fulfill multiple roles. With a few exceptions, most of blue's creatures attack well or block well—seldom both. Of course, the ones that attack well do tend to attack very well, and the spells available to blue make blue-based control decks quite good.
The coolest thing that blue adds to the cube in my opinion is enablers for Storm decks. There are only three cards with storm in the cube (Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, and Temporal Fissure), but I want someone to be able to battle with them every time they show up. Blue primarily helps this archetype with card drawing spells, but it also benefits Storm in a few other ways. Cloud of Faeries, Frantic Search, and Gush all generate "free" storm, which is awesome. The coolest card for building high storm counts might be Etherium Sculptor. He doesn't look like much, but check out this Sculptor-fueled Temporal Fissure deck:
- 1 Chrome Steed
- 1 Etherium Sculptor
- 1 Faerie Mechanist
- 1 Neurok Replica
- 1 Pith Driller
- 1 Razor Golem
- 1 Sanctum Gargoyle
- 1 Silver Myr
- 1 Spined Thopter
- 1 Spire Golem
- 1 Trinket Mage
Pretty much everything about this deck is sweet. The equipment makes all of the creatures into legitimate threats, the deck can draw a lot of cards, and now and again it can bounce four or more of your permanents. One-mana artifacts turned free by Etherium Sculptor and Golems made free by Elsewhere Flask are pretty awesome things.
I've struggled with black a lot in this cube. A lot of black's cards are just plain bad. Initially, I included a lot more "suicide black" type creatures such as Carnophage, but almost all of them have since been cut. When other colors get Grizzly Bears with upsides, it doesn't make any sense to stuff another color with 2/2s with drawbacks. It's only very recently that I've started to have faith in aggressive black decks in my cube, but I feel that after making a lot of cuts they are finally viable. Here's a sample B/W list:
- 1 Blinding Souleater
- 1 Aven Squire
- 1 Blind Zealot
- 1 Crimson Acolyte
- 1 Duty-Bound Dead
- 1 Kabuto Moth
- 1 Knight of Cliffhaven
- 1 Liliana's Specter
- 1 Loyal Cathar
- 1 Seraph of Dawn
- 1 Servant of Nefarox
- 1 Weed-Pruner Poplar
This deck is probably defined more by its awesome removal than by its creature base, but premier removal is ultimately what makes black black.
I've gotten into a number of arguments about the exclusion of Hymn to Tourach and the general low volume of discard spells in the cube, and my case against them is very simple. You see, they're bad. Having a random Hymn to Tourach in your deck that has nothing to do with emptying your opponent's hand is little more than goofy. Occasionally, a random Hymn can be a blowout, but that won't be based on good play or good deck construction. Therefore, it's not something that I'm about. I don't even want to get into how embarrassing it is to try to cast discard spells against the good blue decks in this cube.
Better creatures are absolutely something I have my eye on in coming sets for black. Two-mana two-power evasive guys are fine, but many of them end up being outclassed on turn 3. It might just be the case that black aggressive decks will always have to crutch on having removal for the three- and four-drops that ultimately invalidate their creatures, which I suppose is fine.
Red is a much cooler color than I ever gave it credit for. It's the color in the cube that is by far the best at changing gears between being controlling and aggressive. While burn might not be as good at removing creatures as black's spot removal is, it is considerably better at killing players.
More interestingly, red provides a lot of cool options for generating storm. Coal Stoker, Flame Jab, Staggershock, Rift Bolt, Lava Dart, and Fireblast all play very well with Empty the Warrens, and they also make for some really explosive Kiln Fiend turns.
Red also gets a good amount of artifact hate to keep metalcraft drafters honest. I mentioned earlier that things don't get much larger than Ghalma's Warden, so having some hate to keep the big Elephant down is something that I deemed necessary.
If you want to play three or more colors, you'll usually find yourself in green. I've always been a fan of drafting green-based four- or five-color decks in Limited, so it's not too surprising to see this theme in my cube. I did end up excluding some of the more popular options though. I don't have Kodama's Reach or Cultivate because I don't like the idea of a single card making your mana good for the rest of the game. I also don't have Armillary Sphere in the artifact section for this reason. A big problem that I see in a number of cubes is that the mana is just too good. I want four-color to be viable, but I don't want it to be easy. For this reason, you'll see a good number of Borderland Rangers in my cube but only a handful of cards that fix multiple colors.
Of course, green also has a good amount of depth as a singular color. There is an Elf theme present, and all of the "Elves matter" cards are quite strong. Additionally, green gets the largest creatures by default and a good amount of artifacts and enchantments. A number of infect creatures are included as well, but it's difficult to draft a dedicated Infect deck. That said, poisoning people is a very real possibility.
Here's an example of a green-based four-color deck that I Winston Drafted the other day:
- 1 Corpse Cur
- 1 Pith Driller
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Aura Gnarlid
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Centaur Healer
- 1 Gatecreeper Vine
- 1 Kavu Climber
- 1 Looter il-Kor
- 1 Mnemonic Wall
- 1 Rot Wolf
- 1 Silkbind Faerie
This deck is more than capable of supporting four colors of spells and infecting opponents while not being absurdly good at either, and I think that that's a good place for both concepts to be. More than anything this list showcases the power of Peel from Reality, which is an all-star with cards like Corpse Cur and Mnemonic Wall.
Unaligned / Gold / Lands
The rest of the cube doesn't really provide anything that isn't available in the mono-colored sections, but it does add redundancy and power to a number of things.
There's a good amount of colorless fixing featured, but the Ravnica Signets have been excluded for the reasons discussed in the green mana fixing section. Three or more colors should be possible but not easy.
I've already gone ahead and included the Gatecrash Guildgates since I know that they're coming and the Return to Ravnica Guildgates are in rather arbitrary guilds. I am excited for Gatecrash's full spoiler to scope for some improvements in the gold section though. A few of Gatecrash's guilds have some slots that are lacking. I'm not going to pretend like Putrid Warrior is long for this cube.
Why Should I Build a Pauper Cube?
What I personally love about Pauper Cube is that the decks it generates feel a lot more like overpowered Draft decks than the underpowered Constructed decks that most cubes generate. There are multiple themes from years of different Limited formats included in Pauper Cube, and it has been really awesome for me to draft with them all at the same time. I understand that this is not for everyone, but any Limited enthusiast will probably love the experience.
The other thing that I believe makes my particular list awesome is that there is something of an attrition-based metagame built into the cube. The Raise Dead type effects and protection/pump effects do battle with solid blockers and strong removal to generate some really awesome stacks and game states. I've never played any other cube where Apostle's Blessing was a windmill slam or where Ghostfire was a card.
The only glaring issue with the concept of Pauper Cube is that sweepers are very hard to come by. Almost all of the removal available is spot removal, and it can be difficult for control decks to recover if they stumble. There are a few solid options such as Pestilence and Rolling Thunder, but control decks are generally going to have to settle for one for ones with the occasional two for one. Personally, I see this as another aspect that makes Pauper Cube closer to a typical Limited format, but I can see why some players take issue with this aspect.
If that doesn't sound awesome to you, then I would still recommend the process of building your own cube. It has been a lot of fun (albeit a lot of work as well) to design my own Limited environment. If you've ever battled with someone else's cube, I'm sure that there have been cards that you wish you could replace, and being able to manage the entire list has been a sweet experience for me.
As of now, I'm very happy with where the list is, and everyone that's played with it has had positive things to say about the experience. As I mentioned above, there are a few things that I am on the lookout for in order to make future updates, but alas, nothing is perfect. If you know of any sweet commons that I missed, let me know! If you intend to build my cube, then I hope you have as much fun with it as I have.
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter