Magic 2013 is among the best core sets for Limited I’ve ever seen. Play and decks are deep, bombs have answers and counters, and power is more or less even across colors. The New World Order of complexity reduction at lower rarities results in simple, flavorful, powerful commons printed every set. For a set to hook new players in, powerful commons feel awesome.
Through the Avacyn Restored Pauper Cube update, sweeping changes were made. Color curves were refined, casting cost issues were evaluated, and archetypes were refined. As much as Magic 2013 could continue this path, the feedback I have on these changes and the upcoming multicolored block create interesting challenges.
First, let’s run down what’s changed, then why.
War Falcon for Temple Acolyte reinforces white as an aggressive, evasive color. The previous addition of Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant made life-gain a real threat, but Temple Acolyte was never a part of that. War Falcon fills the role of a 1-drop, backed here by plenty of Knight and Soldier creatures in white (and to a lesser extent red).
Attended Knight for Soltari Visionary addresses some casting issues. White has the lion’s share of Aura-based removal, leading the Visionary to seldom provide its additional benefit. What it did bring to the table was a more difficult mana cost and an inability to block most creatures. Attended Knight is a miniature Blade Splicer, powerful in a Cube full of guys with 2 toughness.
Encrust for Spectral Prison is upgrading a fragile form of removal for a version that sticks around. Neither spell is the best at killing something, but for blue, it’s often good enough. It’s also a slight push for blue-based decks to have access to more removal since blue is often over-drafted even in Pauper (incorrectly, in my opinion).
Duty-Bound Dead for Duress I consider a mistake. I had already made the decision weeks before I received some excellent feedback, and it will remain until the next round of updates. Duty-Bound Dead is a very unique card: Exalted changes the combat math calculation, and regeneration ensures it still has an impact in the late game. The mistake here was cutting Duress—taking away answers for buyback is incorrect.
Searing Spear for Ruthless Invasion is a function of use. While I enjoyed Ruthless Invasion as a powerful card in a Limited environment without many artifact creatures, others left this in the sideboard of decks and ignored the now-you’re-dead potential. Instead of forcing the card to stick, I swapped it out with an obvious, desirable card. I’ll touch on Ruthless Invasion again when I revisit the color pairs (see below).
Krenko's Command for Goblin Shortcutter resulted from the underwhelming activity of the Shortcutter. On the curve at 2, he did little—there aren’t an abundance of 1-drops for it to work with (or 1-drops to fight against for that matter). Late in the game, the lack of one blocker often didn’t matter for red. Either the opponent could be swarmed for lethal or be burned out from low life anyway. Krenko's Command creates redundancy with Dragon Fodder for future changes, and making tokens is powerful in its own right.
Rummaging Goblin for Crossway Vampire is a similar result from above: The Vampire just didn’t do the work I wanted it to, and it was rough requiring . Rummaging Goblin, however, is obviously powerful as a looter card. More importantly, it’s looting in the color with burn spells. We’ve seen just how useful the Goblin is through 2012 Magic Players Championship action. There’s no doubt he’ll be ending games here, too.
Kozilek's Predator for Primal Huntbeast is a direct upgrade. A hexproof 3/3 will be creating many more problems than two 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn tokens and/or mana ever could. Huntbeast also dovetails into future plans much better than Eldrazi.
Sentinel Spider for Tangle Golem is another upgrade. You’ll have multiple Forest cards when you’re playing either card, but Sentinel Spider is an absolute beating against the deep pool of flyers in the Cube. Vigilance means we don’t leave damage on the table while fending flying threats: Keeping games moving is absolutely a desire for every card in the Cube. Tangle Golem just wasn’t enough.
These changes seemed the most powerful, relevant, and useful to the Cube as it stands today. How it stands today is subject to a significant shift: Mass removal is coming.
I don’t mean some secret card in Return to Ravnica you’re not yet privy to but that there’s an abundance of cheap spells that deal 1 damage to everything or reduce all creatures’ toughnesses by 1. Evincar's Justice is as close to Pyroclasm as it can be common, so we’ll have to make do with less.
Less toughness across the creatures in every color, with black using less aggressive and more controlling methods in the aggregate, is the solution. Black aggro is extremely difficult without being mono-colored due to the casting costs of many cards. Solving the issue of providing clear, powerful control archetypes (U/B and U/R) while reducing the number of cards is killing two birds with one stone.
Wait. That’s Happening with the Return to Ravnica Update?
Don’t get me wrong: Return to Ravnica is looking amazing. The Gates are beginning an entire cycle of common dual lands. Rupture Spire is seeing a functional reprint in Transguild Promenade. New hybrid cards at common will refine easy-to-cast options and influence the multicolored sections of the Cube heavily.
But there’s a big problem with trying to update after Return to Ravnica: Only half of the color pairs will have been given upgraded tools. This would mean updating the five color pairs in Return to Ravnica without really touching the others. Instead of doing nothing until Gatecrash, I’m taking the opportunity to fix the control archetype issues while previewing the multicolored changes to come.
The next update will feature significant refinements to control archetypes, specifically U/R and U/B. The update after that (that is, Gatecrash) will add specialized tools so the best deck for every color pair has richer choices to pull from. For example, the groundwork for a powerful R/W token deck is here, but things like Fortify aren’t. A few more hexproof creatures and an Auramancer can change G/W from generic aggro to devastating hexproof shenanigans.
A special thanks go out to the Wizards of the Coast text coverage team at the Magic Players Championship: Steve Sadin, Nate Price, and Blake Rasmussen. Your insight and competitive Draft levels were invaluable in shaping the final decision to revamp mass removal and discard. Knowing that my Cube is already fun, but also how it can be polished to the next level, made my night—karaoke aside.
A special, second thanks goes to James at Loading Ready Run. Hearing that my Cube has made Magic more awesome for you and others is the best reward I can imagine. Thanks for being that awesome, and I’d love to hear the most epic tales it provides your entire Magic crew!
Keep your eyes open as Return to Ravnica continues to roll out. I know for a fact the best is yet to come!