If you missed previous Pauper Cube updates, here are the last thirteen:
- Gatecrash Pauper Cube Update
- Dragon's Maze Pauper Cube Update
- Modern Masters Pauper Cube Update
- Magic 2014 Pauper Cube Update
- Theros Pauper Cube Update
- Born of the Gods Pauper Cube Update
- Journey into Nyx Pauper Cube Update
- Magic: The Gathering—Conspiracy and Vintage Masters Pauper Cube Update
- Magic 2015 Pauper Cube Update
- Khans of Tarkir Pauper Cube Update
- Fate Reforged Pauper Cube Update (with Alex Ullman)
- Dragons of Tarkir Cube Update
- Magic Origins Cube Update
Battle for Zendikar is freaking weird.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Limited format that I just can’t win in. Battle for Zendikar is one of those for me. Every tip I’d read and every analysis I’d watch would be another tack I’d try next. Invariably, it wouldn’t work out so well for me. Evaluating cards and identifying the gems hidden among the standouts was hard when most games ended in terrific loss.
After clearing the last of my 2015 travel and finally getting some straight senses about the set, the update was finished. But that isn't the whole store.
As always, the Change Log tab is where you can see what’s been in and out of the Cube recently. If you took a look recently, you’d have noticed a sweeping set of changes that beg for explanation. My aim is to provide that today as efficiently as possible.
Let’s get started.
While I doubled down on some of my new philosophy I didn't implement every change I had in mind. In summary, here's the big shifts you'll see below:
- Shadow is gone. Long live flying!
- Blue's curve was pushed upward. It has the best tempo effects but weakest starting tempo.
- Some Looter effects are removed. Adam Prosak's tears not included.
- Fiery darlings were extinguished.
- Hate Snakes cleaned up.
- Bad mana-fixing lands made room for something else.
- The Cube was reduced by twelve cards, fighting inflation one unnecessary effect at a time.
Conditional, but instant and more powerful, Sunlance is great. Sheer Drop's scaling up to be both a small and large effect will find a great home in white tempo decks. Making room for these new removal standouts were Hyena Umbra—a holdover from a hexproof past—and Kytheon's Tactics. Telegraphing the coming attack's true damage made it far less effective even with vigilance around.
Neither the Lookout nor the Sentinel made the cut, but both are powerful options I considered a long time. The Lookout can pump at will, excellent for pushing through the last points of damage or serving as a mana dump to make combat annoying. Similarly, Ghostly Sentinel is just a strong card. I didn't see the need for it just yet, but it was close.
Shadow Glider, however, is simply a placeholder replacement for Soltari Lancer—same cost, similar effect. We'll see if a different 3-drop can make the cut. Glider is definitely serviceable, but unexciting.
Shadow has seen its days, but I think flying and tricks serve a much more compelling focus than asking, "Can you kill my unblockable 2/2?"
Eldrazi Skyspawner is a premium creature in Battle for Zendikar Limited, and its power carries over to Limited in general. Replacing Wingcrafter, a typically marginal and unplayed cards, seemed great. Similarly, Benthic Infiltrator operates similarly to Elusive Spellfist. While it can't pump up off spells, it can block better and is always unblockable. There's no Processors in the Cube (yet?), but the Infiltrator is among the best Horned Turtles ever.
While both Merfolk Looter and Thought Courier hit the cutting-room floor, too, replacing the powerful Looter il-Kor was another of my concerns. While losing an unblockable card engine is steep, gaining another tempo effect in Clutch of Currents seemed close enough when paired with a potential curve of nonstop bounce guys. Blue lost strict card advantage, but it's a dominant tempo deck that will give it time to make the 5-mana draw effects matter more.
Losing shadow hurt black the most, I feel, taking away its obvious aggressive strategy. Additionally, little in Battle for Zendikar impressed me in black.
Giving black more interesting things to do instead of shadow was tough. Value guys like Sultai Emissary and Hand of Silumgar are lower-curve ways to support a controlling U/B or W/B deck. Disowned Ancestor is an early blocker and can become a huge win condition given time. It's a flexible creature that provided surprising utility with and against aggressive Khans of Tarkir Limited decks. Dauthi Marauder, Dauthi Horror, and Dauthi Slayer were cut for these. Dauthi Mercenary was also cut.
Font of Return was cut because nobody liked it. It was clunky, slow, and generally too weak to make recursion decks—easy to lose.
I cut both Fire Ambush and Volcanic Hammer. There are a ton of direct-damage effects in the Cube, and these two were the slowest. While I debated cutting Lightning Strike or Searing Spear instead, keeping the power higher for a first pass at red seemed right. It's still a Cube, after all.
Centaur's Herald was a card that rarely saw play, but Unnatural Aggression is removal that will. Unrelated, Natural Connection is an instant ramp effect that works similarly to Farseek. I'm willing to see how having one fewer 2-mana ramp spell feels when it can fit into a wait-and-see world of leaving mana available.
These two Snakes were color-hosers. While they're potent, I felt it was time to remove the risk of oops-you-just-can't-answer-it! from the Cube.
Colorless and Lands
Joining Ulamog's Crusher, Eldrazi Devastator is a massive fatty only green-based ramp decks could realistically cast. Having two in the Cube seems okay, and cutting the obnoxious Whispersilk Cloak seemed fair. At least one of these cards can be blocked.
While Fertile Thicket is the weakest of the bunch, all of the new spell lands are powerful commons that help support variety in lands. Fertile Thicket is actually an amazing play for the first or second turn of the ramp decks, and using it as pseudo-mana-fixing to find a needed lands isn't bad either. The others just become better from there.
While three-or-more-colored decks are possible, I've actively discouraged it. Reaching to play "all the two-for-one effects" will be harder without Unknown Shores and Shimmering Grotto, but they were the weakest links in the mana base of those decks anyway.
|Gideon's Reproach||Kytheon's Tactics|
|Sheer Drop||Hyena Umbra|
|Shadow Glider||Soltari Lancer|
|Benthic Infiltrator||Elusive Spellfist|
|Clutch of Currents||Looter il-Kor|
|Disowned Ancestor||Dauthi Slayer|
|Sultai Emissary||Dauthi Horror|
|Hand of Silumgar||Dauthi Marauder|
|—||Font of Return||Cut|
|Makindi Sliderunner||Borderland Marauder|
|Unnatural Aggression||Centaur's Herald|
|Eldrazi Devastator||Whispersilk Cloak|
This update cut uninteractive combat mechanics as well as altered and signed cards galore, but it provided a fresh set of tricks, nonbasic lands, and archetype support. I'm looking forward to how these shake out going into Oath of the Gatewatch, where we'll surely see even more lands and awaken options.
See you in 2016!