In this article, I'll discuss Masters 25's impact for rarity-restricted Cubes: Peasant and Pauper Cubes. As opposed to the usual format where I discuss by keyword, I'll be breaking these down by rarity downshifts.
Full disclosure: I've had a Pauper Cube since late 201,0 but I don't have a Peasant Cube. Therefore, I don't have a lot of experience with these cards in that format, but will draw from experiences from those cards in other formats (other Cubes, their roles in Constructed decks, etc). However, evaluations are not based solely from those formats.
Downshifted to Common
Red comes out as a clear winner in Masters 25 since it downshifts several great cards for Pauper Cubes.
When I discussed Scorched Rusalka in the Modern Masters 2017 Pauper and Peasant Cube review, I noted how it's a great add to the format due to a lack of great 1-drops, as trying to make aggro decks lean hard on their 2-drops is a recipe for disaster.
While Pauper Cube designers still have a paucity of good Red 1-drops, Masters 25 provides a few more gifts for Red aggro decks with Jackal Pup joining the ranks as the first real 2/1 for without terrible (Mogg Conscripts and Goblin Cohort) or situational (Foundry Street Denizen -- as good as it is, tends to be a conditional 2/1 for , more so in 2-color Red aggro decks) making it a straightforward and easy inclusion for Pauper Cubes that want aggro decks to be a viable and consistent element in their Cube metagames.
Much like Scorched Rusalka, Frenzied Goblin was also featured in Mark Herberholz's Pro Tour Honolulu 2006's winning "Heezy Street" Gruul aggro deck as a premier creature to make opposing blocks awkward.
Gruul Beats -- 2006 Standard | Mark Herberholz, Pro Tour Honolulu 2006
- Creatures (27)
- 3 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Dryad Sophisticate
- 4 Giant Solifuge
- 4 Kird Ape
- 4 Scab-Clan Mauler
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Moldervine Cloak
Frenzied Goblin has seen play in Cubes with uncommons and rares, although it generally doesn't tend to see as much play in the latter due to competition, not the effect "being bad." While Frenzied Goblin does require mana to trigger, I've found that, much like Intimidator Initiate, that the cost isn't really that bad as it more than pays for itself by getting troublesome blockers out of the way. Generally, I find people tend to underestimate the impact of an additional mana for effects, rather than overestimate them, and even when looking at it within that context, it's another easy addition to Pauper Cube to bolster Red aggro decks.
Crimson Mage -- Joins the ranks of great 2-drops for Pauper Cube and makes topdecks for aggro decks better by having a high damage output by being a good example of a creature that's great on turn two while not being that bad on turn eight if the game gets to that point. In his worst case, he's a 2/1 Goblin Chariot and, much like Bloodlust Inciter, represents a lot of damage through granting haste. While, in theory, this could be played in midrange and control decks, it's mainly for Red aggro decks and it fits quite well there. Later in the article I'll go in depth about how deep Red's 2-drop slot is and how there's a lot of great cards there, which may edge this out, but it's a card that I'm finding to work
Pillage's obvious comparison is Molten Rain, but it may not be the most apt. Think back to when Abrade was shown -- many people automatically compared it to Smash to Smithereens as it destroyed an artifact and said damage in the text box, but this was a false equivalency in terms of the decks that wanted to play it and function. Smash to Smithereens is a high-damage blunt force tool for aggro decks to deal damage while disrupting, whereas Abrade is a flexible surgeon's scalpel, dealing with many opposing threats, but poor at advancing the clock for aggressive decks.
Pillage's inclusion in the Fire and Lightning deck doesn't help its reputation as it provides another tick for it to be a burn deck tool, but it's more a flexible tool to deal with non-creature (ones that aren't artifacts, at least) threats from an opponent. That said, not as many decks are looking for a card to deal with annoying lands as mode A (as looking at it with artifact hate as mode A is horribly inefficient). There aren't a lot of overpowered lands in the format, although bouncelands and signets make for very good targets to hit (although they aren't overpowered or format-warping in a properly designed Pauper Cube list.)
Cubes used to use land destruction as disruption for aggro, but this fell out of favor since many of these cards didn't do a lot to disrupt and made for abysmal topdecks. Red midrange and control decks may not even want this either, so this may end up being a card without a real home in Cube and being overrated due to the uniqueness of the effect.
Hordeling Outburst is a great card for all Red decks in Pauper Cube. Overall, token generators tend to work better as they scale up, since they (in theory) represent card advantage, even if the "card" being generated is Mons's Goblin Raiders. Even in a Cube that doesn't care about tokens as a theme, it's an outstanding card that provides a ton of value. Although the adoption rates of Dragon Fodder and Krenko's Command are high, both seeing play in the Pauper Cube 360-card average, this plays better to the strengths that these cards provide, by being able to go wide and working well with mass-pump and equipment. It's another pretty easy add for Pauper Cubes of all sizes.
Balduvian Horde, the former chase rare card from Alliances, sure has shown its age over the years by being downshifted to common. Many rares that got downshifted to common ended up being pretty underwhelming in Pauper Cube - Emperor Crocodile, Scion of the Wild, Mortician Beetle, amongst others -- as Pauper downshifts in Masters sets are considered for their impact on the pauper format, more so nowadays due to increased popularity of the Pauper format.
Creatures in the Pauper format tend to trend on the small side, and the Horde's large size may be where its niche lies in Pauper Cube. Looking at the average 720-card Pauper Cube average, this is a list of the 5+ power creatures in the format:
- Striped Riverwinder
- Gearseeker Serpent
- Halimar Wavewatch (as a 6/6)
- Twisted Abomination
- Tenement Crasher
- Chartooth Cougar (if pumped once)
- Gathan Raiders (if Hellbent)
- Gorehorn Minotaurs (if bloodthirsted)
- Vildin-Pack Outcast
- Sprinting Warbrute
- Scion of the Wild (if you have enough creatures out)
- Lifecraft Cavalry (if revolted)
- Rhox Maulers (if renowned)
- Nessian Asp (if Monstrous)
- Festerhide Boar (if Morbid)
- Stampeding Elk Herd
- Rampaging Hippo
- Thundering Tanadon
- Greater Sandwurm
- Siege Wurm
- Walker of the Grove
- Krosan Tusker
- Lurking Automaton
- Ulamog's Crusher
- Eldrazi Devastator
- Golgari Rotwurm
- Zhur-Taa Swine
- Scuzzback Marauders
Aside from Green, there aren't a whole lot of 5+ power creatures in the format (and even then, some don't tend to be used as a 5+ power creature in their primary mode, such as Zhur-Taa Swine, Krosan Tusker and Walker of the Grove.) That said, it does tend to line up very poorly against the non-Red removal of the format -- although bouncing it with Dead // Gone makes it look awfully silly -- and sending a Doom Blade to it isn't great for the Horde's caster either. Because of this, I'm cooler on this than one would expect.
Savannah Lions is another obvious inclusion for Pauper Cubes that want to have aggressive decks supported as a viable and healthy part of their metagames.
Ironically, it may end up being included in more Cubes since it's "not a tri-color card" but this is more a case when categorizing according to how cards actually play out can backfire if done without consideration to how cards actually play out and not taking additive distraction into account. This may explain why it hardly sees play in Pauper Cubes at the moment, not even being included in the CubeTutor 720 average.
However, is it truly additive distraction from not wanting a "Jund" card in their Cube or a double striker being too close to a Goblin Piker . . . or both causing Viashino Slaughtermaster to not be included in many Pauper Cubes. Speaking personally, being aware of additive distraction's effect, it's the latter and why I'm not too keen on Fencing Ace making a big impact in the format, especially since the 2-drop slot for Red is incredibly deep, with:
- Several virtual 3/2s for 2 (Gore-House Chainwalker, Thriving Grubs, Borderland Marauder)
- Cards like Thermo-Alchemist and Firebrand Archer being burn players' best friends
- Token generators like Krenko's Command and Dragon Fodder
- Other generally efficient creatures like Mogg War Marshal, Plated Geopede, Valley Dasher and Keldon Marauders
This doesn't leave much room for other cards.
White has similar competition with:
- generally efficient aggro cards like Azorius Arrester, Loyal Cathar, Soltari Trooper and several 3/1s for 2 with upside like Daring Skyjek, Oketra's Avenger
- great generalists like Kor Skyfisher, Seeker of the Way
- solid token generators like Raise the Alarm, Gather the Townsfolk, and Countless Gears Renegade
Amongst others. It's true that a 1/1 double striker can tend to play better with pump and White has some nice global pump cards like Borrowed Grace, Ramosian Rally, Fortify, and Rally the Peasants (which can conceivably be cast in a deck like Selesnya splashing for Red.)
This may make it so that Fencing Ace plays better than Viashino Slaughtermaster, much like how Harmonize plays better in Green than Concentrate does in Blue. While it wouldn't be embarrassing to see in a Pauper Cube (or to play it), don't be surprised if it ends up being worse than you think.
Loyal Sentry is essentially a "Seal of Doom" type of creature. You can play tricks in response to the trigger and it stops things like lifelink and trample, but in *most* cases, and in just about all of the times when I tried it out, it's a White Typhoid Rats (on defense) which is generally solid, but Loyal Sentry does feel overrated currently due to the uniqueness of the effect. White isn't lacking for powerful good 1-drops like Red, Black and Green are (and 2/Xs for 1 are still on the low end for the format), but it's unique enough to see play in decks like White midrange and control which aren't in the market for aggressive White creatures like Infantry Veteran or Court Homunculus, but don't be surprised if it ends up being closer to a White Typhoid Rats than you may be thinking.
Court Hussar is now arguably the best Azorius card at common, but Momentary Blink gives it some stiff competition as a card that can generate a ton of value with the creatures that trigger when they enter the battlefield (although ironically, Court Hussar is awful with blink style cards.) It's a great defensive creature that blocks 2/2s all day and can get in chip shots while holding the fort down. As an on-rate value creature, it's much like Sea Gate Oracle that's better at both roles (card selection and having vigilance) at the cost of needing to be played in decks. Cards being better than their mono-color counterparts isn't enough on its own to make it into Cubes due to the naturally restrictive nature of multicolored cards (Rip-Clan Crasher and Azorius First-Wing are better than their mono-color counterparts, but they hardly see Cube play due to the limited number of multicolored cards.) However, Sea Gate Oracle is one of the best 3-drops in Blue in the format, so being comparable to that is still a good benchmark and this is a solid addition to Pauper Cubes.
It's a slight disappointment that the rest of the "free" cycle didn't get downshifted since it seemed like colors like White were in the market for a good free morph, but these two are solid cards. Ruthless Ripper is the best Typhoid Rats variant at common, even discounting its ability to be flipped via revealing if it was just a Typhoid Rats with a weird form of kicker, a la Birchlore Rangers, as it's great to deter opposing blockers and its morph trigger dealing damage helps it to find a home in aggressive decks as either a 1-drop, for curve purposes, or a way to dome an opponent for two.
Dragon's Eye Savants aren't quite as good, but they defend incredibly well. Having information from the opponent is a great feature for Blue decks, being powerful while being able to accurately gauge the threats that an opponent can represent. As noted earlier, there aren't a lot of 5+ power creatures, making it so that it can block almost everything in the format.
Ainok Survivalist is a pretty obvious power upgrade to Nantuko Vigilante, but not strictly so since it's only a 2/1 if blinked/reanimated. That scenario is pretty corner-case and the ability to cast it as a 2/1 for more than made up for it, especially in matchups where you just need something to trade with a small creature.
Assembly Worker, Geist of the Moors, Cinder Storm, and Skeletonize are all relatively inefficient, although some these cards have their respective talking points (Geist being a three mana 3/1 flier with no drawback, but it's mediocre and Cinder Storm being the biggest damage dealer outside of X spells, but is inefficient.)
Downshifted to Uncommon
Undead Gladiator -- despite appearances, it's more of a card selection card than a 3/1 beater for 3 with cycling, which can be seen through mono-Black decks around 2001 to 2003 to 2008 that utilized Undead Gladiator as a way to grind through dead cards (creature kill spells against decks where it didn't matter, discard spells when no longer relevant.)
However, it's not a fast card by any means and it can take some time to get a lot of value (and locking the Regrowth ability to your upkeep is awkward, but not as much as, say, Eternal Dragon or Hammer of Bogardan, since the mana cost is low enough to not force you to decide to either regrow it and Time Walk yourself or do something else) and one could argue that it's too slow for Peasant Cubes, but this isn't the case. Midrange and control decks that utilize Black as a main color typically have cards that can slow the pace of the game through cards like Innocent Blood, the myriad of 187s (Nekrataal, Skinrender, Ravenous Chupacabra) and other spells, so it's not hard to get value out of this -- and even in games where time is compressed, it can either cycle or act as a roadblock. Don't be quick to discard this card's value as it's a solid add to Pauper Cubes.
Promise of Bunrei provides so much value for the cost, not just in sacrifice decks a la Ghost Dad, but even as a way to "protect" your attacking creatures from dying in combat, although it loses out since it's not 100% reliable (the opponent gets the choice to trigger it in decks without a sacrifice engine). That doesn't make it bad, even if it gives an opponent a choice, since it can put the opponent in a Sophie's Choice type of scenario. So, don't be surprised if it performs well, even outside of dedicated token or sacrifice decks.
Shadowmage Infiltrator -- In a guild without many standouts at uncommon aside from the staple Baleful Strix, Shadowmage Infiltrator is a great card advantage engine and evasive threat and should be a high consideration for Peasant Cubes. Cubes with only 1 multicolored card will likely have to eschew this for Baleful Strix, but a section with 2+ Dimir cards should easily have room for this.
Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon" is nice as an anthem on a stick, which isn't really seen in the format outside of Pianna, Nomad Captain. While it's not as efficient as Pianna, it's still a great addition to White decks that seek to either go wide or fast and it's a great card for the format.
Iwamori of the Open Fist has some great stats. Four mana 5/5s are easier to find with rares in the format, but they're a lot less prevalent at the uncommon rarity. Its drawback, similarly, isn't too bad since there aren't a lot of commonly ran legends at uncommon, with the following being the only real options:
Its drawback was pretty rough when it was allowing things like Akroma, Angel of Wrath to be brought into play for free, and the worst cases like Sun Ce are still awkward, but it's not as prevalent as you may think and trample on top of a 5/5 is a great way to go over the top of the threats of the format. It's a solid Green card for most Green decks in the format, so it's definitely worth consideration.
Ire Shaman is a card that I've ran in my powered Cube as an evasive threat with some cheap card advantage tacked on. With the lowered competition in Red, it's a card that would fare well in the format by filling multiple roles and it's a solid, but not absurd, card for Red decks. It's a bit slow for Red aggressive decks but I found even those decks were fine running Ire Shaman. All in all, a solid add.
Will-o'-The-Wisp is a cheap evasive threat that wears equipment incredibly well and defends very well due to cheap regeneration. It's a solid card to consider for Black midrange and control decks as a way to go long.
Lastly, Ancient Craving is another Ambition's Cost and many Peasant Cubes aren't in the market for one, let alone two. Balduvian Hordes suffers as well in Peasant since Pillaging Horde was downshifted in Vintage Masters as an uncommon and it's not really seeing play there either.
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