Ultimate Masters seems will be the last (at least, for a while) Masters set, so it's likely to be the last - or at least one of the last - opportunities to downshift rarities for rarity-restricted Cubes. As Battlebond was developed without knowledge of Pauper's popularity, this set offers significantly more Pauper downshifts with 20 downshifts to common.
Of course, they're not all hits, but I'll cover how this set impacts pauper and peasant Cubes.
As noted in previous Masters reviews for Cube, I'll note that as my Pauper and Peasant Cubes are more of a "side project", I still keep them up to date, even if I don't draft them as often as I'd like. Because of that and the holiday season resulting in worse attendance, I don't have as many reps as I had in, say, my Guilds of Ravnica thesis-length review.
Tethmos High Priest is a decent payoff for some aggressive decks, but generally, heroic cards have been on the outside looking in for Pauper Cube. Build-around cards are easier to get working in Constructed formats, and they're harder to get working in Pauper Cubes because:
- There aren't a lot of good "positive buffs" and one of the things that translates to Pauper Cube is that there's still a ton of good cheap removal in the format, especially in Red and Black. Of course, things like Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares and ones like Fatal Push/Murderous Cut aren't there, but there's still a good amount of cards like Lightning Bolt, Searing Spear and its ilk and the billion or so riffs of Terror.
- The good positive buffs, like Hyena Umbra, Cartouche of Solidarity, Cartouche of Zeal and Hammerhand are solid cards even without any heroic cards, but they're few and far in between.
- When one can't rely on these heroic triggers, common heroic creatures are poor in terms of general efficiency. Creatures like Lagonna-Band Trailblazers, Wingsteed Rider, Akroan Crusader and Satyr Hoplite are awful when one can't hit heroic. Playing these in a deck requires asking oneself how many targeting spells are needed, and for a format like Pauper Cube, it's a hard sell.
Tethmos High Priest's body isn't super efficient as a Riot Devils/Blind Phantasm, but tends to work well by keeping fuel going in the late game as it helps to negate spot removal. However, it requires some work to be worth playing in a Pauper Cube with cards like Blinding Beam, Niveous Wisps, and Repel the Darkness, which can perform double duty, since using a Pacifism on your own High Priest is usually a terrible play. With a few more cards like Blinding Beam, Pauper Cubes can use it well, but right now, it's one that requires some significant effort.
Resurrection - with Breath of Life and False Defeat already on the low side of representation due to the lack of good payoffs in the format (ie good big creatures that have some sort of protection in case they eat a Doom Blade), having a version that costs isn't much better.
Skyspear Cavalry - there aren't a lot of 4/4 fliers in the format, as Air Elemental is the bar for uncommon flying creature size. There exist some close analogues like the 5 mana 3-power flyers like Shimmerscale Drake, Gryff Vanguard, and other all-stars like Peregrine Drake and Mulldrifter, but there's not been a 4/4 flier at common outside of Windrider Eel and Illusionary Forces.
Because of this, Skyspear Cavalry is only really worth a look due to having essentially 4-power, a la Air Elemental. Still, it's not that good as it's fragile and trades with 2-power creatures that have more than 2 toughness.
Foil - another thing that the Pauper Cube format lacks is good hard counters as there's Counterspell, about a billion soft counters a la Mana Leak and some others at 3 like Dissolve, Stoic Rebuttal, and Faerie Trickery.
Devious Cover-Up provides a pseudo-wincon for some slow Blue decks and Foil joins this odd crew by providing a bluff, but usually the right call is to just ask players if they have it, and having it requires a good amount of setup. I wasn't too impressed with it in performance.
Moan of the Unhallowed may be the best card in the set for Pauper Cubes as it provides an absolute ton of value as a curve topper for aggro decks, a decent roadblock for control decks and sacrifice fodder for decks utilizing cards like Viscera Seer. In fact, Moan of the Unhallowed might just be the best 4-drop for black in the format. The flashback cost is a nice bit of insurance flood too, which is great for a format without a lot of big high-cost things to do. All in all, a great card.
Slum Reaper - is similar to cards like Fleshbag Marauders to let creatures on your board trade up. Generally aggressive decks have used it best by allowing to throw away a generic small creature but it's not bad in midrange decks that have value 2/2s like Aether Adepts that already did their thing. So far, it's performed well and likely will stick around in Pauper Cubes for some time.
Reckless Wurm - Arrogant Wurm was downshifted to common in Vintage Masters and that hasn't done much because of the low number of cards to enable madness. This is the same, but is slightly better since there aren't a lot of great 4/4s in Red at common, which makes it not bad as a potential payoff, but I found it's just not worth it.
Sparkspitter - due to the lack of x/4s in the format, this almost always trades a Spark Elemental for an opposing creature. Making something at EOT also threatens so much damage in a cycle (EOT Elemental, main phase Elemental) which is nice if the board gets stalled. There are synergies with graveyard cards but I've found that any Red aggro deck can utilize it well, despite how odd a 1/3 looks in an aggro deck, but I've found it's nice in slower Red decks to stonewall 2/2s.
Molten Birth isn't worth the mana cost, taking average use into account.
Groundskeeper - Willy suffers since Tilling Treefolk does the job better. Like in Mercadian Masques, it is a combo with Spellshapers but it's not worth the floor of being a Green Mons's Goblin Raiders.
Miming Slime is vulnerable to blowouts and not a huge payoff either. If trying to make a Voltron archetype in your Pauper Cube meta, this can work, but the use is still incredibly narrow for something that may be better than just casting a Civic Wayfinder or a Nessian Courser.
Fire // Ice - is an incredibly easy add for Pauper Cubes. Even just Chandra's Pyrohelix is fine, but adding the ability to slow an opponent down or tap a mana source on upkeep is even better. It's likely the best Izzet card also. Add if you haven't already.
Canker Abomination is an odd card that works well if you can either accelerate it out or control the opponent's board by beating down efficiently or using removal. This deck that went 3-0 was more of the latter, but it was almost always a 5/5 or a 6/6.
Sample Deck #1 | Pauper Cube | Usman Jamil
- Creatures (15)
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Canker Abomination
- 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Hooting Mandrills
- 1 Jungleborn Pioneer
- 1 Liliana's Specter
- 1 Maul Splicer
- 1 Peema Outrider
- 1 Safehold Elite
- 1 Scion Summoner
- 1 Sentinel Spider
- 1 Thorn of the Black Rose
- 1 Thrill-Kill Assassin
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
- Artifacts (1)
- 1 Serrated Arrows
Canker Abomination suffers more in standoff boardstates where walls of creatures stare at each other, but usually that shouldn't happen outside of slow deck mirrors. I've been quite impressed by this odd treefolk thus far.
Dimir Guildmage is slower than people think but still a great card to grind out card advantage. Because of this, I've found that it can be harder to have the luxury of drawing a lot of cards with this, but its on-curve body is still nice and, if in Black, can force the opponent to play off the top (a la Liliana of the Veil.) It isn't quite as easy of an add because Dimir's pauper suite is outstanding (Dinrova Horror, Recoil, Mystical Teachings, amongst many others) but I've loved it as a good value engine that can beat down for 2.
Vessel of Endless Rest is a bad mana rock if you feel that you need it. You likely shouldn't though.
Wandering Champion works well with curving out by letting it loot if you follow up with a creature like Aether Adept, or something like a Raid Bombardment or a Vulshok Sorcerer/Inner-Flame Acolyte to force through damage. I found that, at least in Azorius and Boros decks, it was easier to make the bonus active and vulnerable as she may be, her effect helps to snowball victory. It likely should be in its own section ala Wild Nacatl but if forcing it into White, it's still great, unless Red aggro and Blue tempo are bad in your Pauper Cube.
Since most of the downshifting attention was to pauper, there aren't as many goodies for Peasant Cubes. In fact, the offerings are pretty barren.
Angel of Despair - in a color combination with several great reanimation cards, this is an actual good payoff for reanimating something that's in color by being a giant threat that has immediate impact.
She's easily 2nd best card if counting Lingering Souls and thus, should be an easy add if having 2+ slots for Orzhov.
Apprentice Necromancer - is not a Reanimate but close enough to get a random creature into play. There aren't a lot of big reanimation targets that have an impact after reanimated, but cards like Penumbra Wurm and Symbiotic Wurm and impacts the board to where the opponent always has to respect it with potential combat math. It's overall great.
Firewing Phoenix is too much mana for not enough impact and plays poorly in more controlling Red decks, since having 2 toughness makes it trade with everything.
Living Lore has some synergies with Treasure Cruise and other high-cost spells, but it's just so inconsistent and needs all of the stars to align. Relatively easy pass, moreso since Blue 4-drops in uncommon are absurd.
Lastly, Laboratory Maniac is fragile but there's enough ways to churn through your deck via draw spells. I've not had much luck with it, though.
Thanks for reading!
Cube podcast, The Third Power, that Anthony Avitollo and I host.
Find me @@UsmanTheRad