Hello. It's been awhile.
A little too long, in fact.
Hour of Devastation came and went, and now Ixalan arrived with Iconic Masters right behind it. All combined that's around 200 new commons to consider for Pauper cubes—a hefty amount to sort through for an update.
So that's exactly what I did because that's exactly what I promised.
The secret, of course, is that I had been working on updates all along. Sifting through each new set for amazing commons is part of my preview season ritual for the Friday full reveal. Being on site at HasCon to watch Iconic Masters common reveals live was an experience I won't forget. The result is that this update is big as a function of just not getting the details out sooner.
If you're new to the Pauper cube and wondering what's going on it's straightforward: For around $200 you can have a sweet draft environment that costs a cup of coffee (or two or three on occasion) to update every few months. From The Professor to Twitter memes and Reddit threads, it grew into a life of its own and I'm happy so many enjoy drafting commons like I do.
Broadly, the following facts are true about my Pauper cube:
This update covers three sets: Hour of Devastation, Ixalan and Iconic Masters. While I won't discuss cards that didn't make the update in the running article, the most useful feedback I get and discuss in comments are your experiences with other cards. Many (most) of the cube's best tweaks and changes come from feedback, so don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments or directly to me on Twitter by mentioning @the_stybs.
If you already have my cube updated through Amonkhet, then the handy deck after the update text can get you just the cards you need. If you don't have the cube already it's a bit harder.
Buying a cube can be tricky as any order of over 400 unique cards—particularly when most of the cards are worth just pennies each—can be challenging for any one store. At the end of the article you'll find separate decks, each representing a unique section of the Pauper cube. The best way to get all the cards is to buy each “deck” individually—as separate orders—so the optimization can run efficiently. Most of the cards will be available through TCGplayer Direct so you won't need 30 packages to get your cube together.
Revolt is really tricky to set up ideally, and while nobody plays around it in the cube it still isn't performing well. Replacing Countless Gears Renegade with a proven, and former uncommon, two-drop in Seeker of the Way should give a scary option for white-blue and white-black tempo decks.
White-Black Control hasn't worked out the way I imagined, but (spoiler) only one monarch card gets the cut here. Palace Sentinels isn't particularly synergistic with other cards, but Paladin of the Bloodstained is. A token with lifelink will be a neat wrinkle to see play out with combat tricks—and getting four power for four mana is solid in white.
Tandem Lookout looked good on paper but with so much instant speed removal it's hard to capitalize on unless you're already in control of a game—a typical “the rich get richer” mechanic that doesn't feel good for the cube. Sailor of Means should shore up slower blue decks while helping ramp to two-for-one effects, a nice way to support control with a three-drop that isn't Man-'o-War.
Amonkhet's River Serpent was meant to give to blue a fatty that could be cycled cheap. Hour of Devastation's Striped Riverwinder essentially upgrades that into a hexproof version. Six and seven mana are big payoff points, especially with a little ramp to do it earlier: 5/5 hexproof is hard to answer in the cube. (See also: the time I cut all the hexproof creatures because they were too good.)
Blue bouncing is good, even with some of the texture changes to limit the instant speed options. Switching Whirlpool Whelm to Depths of Desire is general a downgrade, but another texture adjustment to give blue something neat (a little ramp) and make choosing to cast a creature or hold mana for a spell slightly harder. It's a small nudge, but balancing the power of bounce against having to use more of it attached to creatures matters.
Deathtouch creatures are always hard to block, which made Aether Poisoner interesting for making a Servo. Upgrading to a 1/2 deathtouch that can survive blocking most tokens or making a 2/3 deathtouch attacker for just two mana buts it into multiple archetypes better. Uncommon downgrades are awesome.
The “mill some and return a creature from the graveyard to your hand” effects have been middling on average, or exceptional late in the game. Swapping black's Corpse Churn for a creature that functions on both offense and defense in a different way, Dire Fleet Hoarder, should be interesting. I'm not confident about this slot given precedence (see Exultant Cultist for example) but a two-mana 2/1 is better on a curve than a Gray Ogre.
It wouldn't be a big update without some controversy. Skinthinner is always a good deal. A savvy opponent might use a removal spell on the morph immediately—acting like a lightning rod that protects your other creatures—but generally you get to unmorph it and kill something juicy and still have a two-power creature left behind. Skinthinner is an amazing card, and why future morph creatures in Khans of Tarkir were so much less powerful.
Deadeye Tormentor isn't as powerful and won't always work like a solid two-for-one, but the success of Mardu Skullhunter means this should be a solid aggressive body too. Black has tons of the most efficient removal in the cube, but giving black aggro another option and adding back in a “fair” source of discard should be fine. Skinthinner's two-for-one days will be missed, but a small power down will play a little better.
Maulfist Squad, even as a 4/2 menace, wasn't particularly threatening. One of the cards I missed from Modern Masters 2017 was the powerful uncommon downshift of Falkenrath Noble. (It was also printed at common in Commander 2017 for the Vampire deck!) A flying body can attack while giving all your removal and trades a free life drain component adds up. This should be a powerful wrinkle to decks like white-black and black-green.
Aether Chaser, as a 2/1 with first strike, was okay. Making a Servo wasn't bad either. But red's biggest advantage isn't just in going wide but in going fast. Nest Robber is a 2/1 haste that can threaten incredible curve outs for red decks—two-drop with haste, into three-drop wtih haste, into four-drop with haste, into five-drop with haste—and change the combat math later on. Haste has been red's go-to evasion for awhile in the cube, and this is one of the first to do it well at common in the two-drop slot (compared to Akoum Battlesinger or Mudbrawler Cohort at least).
Talruum Minotaur was a fun placeholder—I love Mirage—but it was easily replaceable by other creatures already. Giving Brazen Buccaneers chance to play with explore feels like a good fit for red decks looking to move as fast as possible—a 3/3 haste or 2/2 haste that gets a land off the top out of the way looks great for red decks that want to end games fast.
I always liked Pouncing Kavu and it's admittedly one of my pet cards in the cube. Five mana for a 3/3 first strike and haste felt so good on most boards. However, spending that five mana on Storm Fleet Pyromancer gives red a natural two-for-one type card that's still a way to advance the battlefield. This is a clear power upgrade.
Grapple with the Past's problem was covered with Corpse Churn above. In green, this meant the opportunity to add a unique downshifted rare with Ivy Elemental. While Gray Ogre and Hill Giant aren't super exciting the ability to play a creature on curve at most points of the game, as well as dump mana into in a ramp deck, should be great role-filler for decks. Getting five-cards-in-one usually works out well.
Swift Spinner has flash, which made it feel like a combat trick. Grazing Whiptail doesn't, but has a massive three power to block or attack with. As common Spiders go, this Dinosaur is one of the most efficient Spiders at four mana now.
Straight removal is almost always better than a combat trick, particularly a weaker version of said untapping-to-block-unexpectedly trick. Savage Surge was fine, but I suspect Pounce will make the cut more often as an instant in green.
Unnatural Aggression and Ambuscade have the same mana cost, but by giving up the exile clause you remove all the risk to your own creature, and even hit one power above the grade. This “first strike fight” effect is excellent with small deathtouch creatures as well as earlier in games when you'd hit yourself for a two-for-one by trading the creatures that fight.
Here's another controversial change that should get a flurry of comments. Yes, Cultivate and Kodama's Reach are more powerful—but they aren't without problems. Specifically, they encourage more-than-two-color decks and support the obvious “base green, multicolor good stuff” decks that plague rare cubes.
I want more decisions and focus in decks, even with ramp decks.
Beneath the Sands is unique as the only ramp spell with cycling, giving you an out later in the game. Search for Tomorrow can be a one-drop ramp spell that shines if it's in your opening hand, and is mana efficient when you're trying to use all your mana every turn. These new ramp spells are situationally more powerful, and will fill the same role of direct ramp (and color fixing) in green decks without making it easy to go wider in colors too. Overall this should be a minor downgrade in ramp power but provide more exciting options and choices in gameplay.
In looking over Amonkhet, I realized Honed Khopesh wasn't that exciting to add. Yet Leonin Scimitar remained. More powerful equipment is still in the cube, but giving another two-mana ramp option felt like a powerful way to go. Since Star Compass keys off the basic lands you control, and we just cut two of the green multi-basic land ramping spells, this felt like a safe way to help ramp hit a critical second turn “Rampant Growth” spell.
I wanted to like Filigree Crawler but it's just too inefficient against the rest of the cube. Guardian Idol is another two-mana ramp spell, but this one can do an impression of a creature for a turn if needed, similar to Mutavault. It's a great card for ramp decks that doesn't provide access to any colors—a balanced “Rampant Growth” that's still a worthwhile card to play.
|Seeker of the Way||Countless Gears Renegade|
|Paladin of the Bloodstained||Palace Sentinels|
|Sailor of Means||Tandem Lookout|
|Striped Riverwinder||River Serpent|
|Depths of Desire||Whirlpool Whelm|
|Thrill-Kill Assassin||Aether Poisoner|
|Dire Fleet Hoarder||Corpse Churn|
|Falkenrath Noble||Maulfist Squad|
|Nest Robber||Aether Chaser|
|Brazen Buccaneers||Talruum Minotaur|
|Storm Fleet Pyromancer||Pouncing Kavu|
|Ivy Elemental||Grapple with the Past|
|Grazing Whiptail||Swift Spinner|
|Beneath the Sands||Kodama's Reach|
|Search for Tomorrow||Cultivate|
|Guardian Idol||Filigree Crawler|
|Star Compass||Leonin Scimitar|
Thanks for your thoughts, reminders to update and awesome insights into your experience with a Pauper cube. I'll see you in December when things get a little Unstable!