In this article, I want to talk about the format'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 and archetype. Full disclosure: I've had a Pauper Cube since late 2010, but I don't have a Peasant Cube. Therefore, I don't have a lot of experience with these cards in that format, but evaluations will be based on approximation.
First, the big winners!
The Big Winners
Seeker of the Way is the best card for the format from IMA as a medium-sized threat that doesn't take a lot of support to make a big impact over the course of a game. In Pauper Cube, White decks, even White aggressive decks, tend to not lack for targets for it. This 3-0 White aggressive deck is on the low end for prowess triggers, but likely would be a solid home for Seeker of the Way.
Seeker Deck ? Pauper Cube | Usman Jamil
- Creatures (17)
- 1 Ardent Recruit
- 1 Blinding Souleater
- 1 Cathodion
- 1 Court Homunculus
- 1 Daring Skyjek
- 1 Elite Vanguard
- 1 Frogmite
- 1 Glint-Sleeve Artisan
- 1 Kor Hookmaster
- 1 Loyal Cathar
- 1 Myr Enforcer
- 1 Ornithopter
- 1 Razor Golem
- 1 Soltari Trooper
- 1 Spined Thopter
- 1 Steppe Lynx
- 1 Syndic of Tithes
- Instants (1)
- 1 Disenchant
- Sorceries (1)
- 1 Battle Screech
Slower White decks like midrange, aggro-control and control have utilized its lifelink and I was honestly quite shocked that a card as efficient as it is got downshifted. This is by far the easiest include in the set for pauper cubes.
Thrill-Kill Assassin is another very good on-curve beater in Pauper Cube, as it lines up well with the threats of the format: 2/2s, high-defense creatures like Wall of Roots and big creatures like Benthic Giant, Rampaging Hippo, and Gurmag Angler — and not many creatures in the format can boast being able to take on that class of attackers, as other deathtouchers like Typhoid Rats, Pharika's Chosen, Sedge Scorpion and Thorn of the Black Rose aren't really all-stars in aggressive decks due to their low power. It's made a home in slower Black decks as a poor man's Rancid Rats if need be, but its main role has been in Black beatdown decks. If you're appropriately supporting them, it's another easy include.
Dissolve — One of the things you'll notice about the Pauper Cube format is that there aren't a lot of hard counters like in other formats. Once you get past Counterspell, the other good counterspells are either soft counters like Mana Leak, Miscalculation, and Condescend, or overpriced/weak ones like Faerie Trickery, Cancel, Rewind and Arcane Denial. Dissolve may appear to be one of the latter counters, as it costs 3, but the ability to scry has worked wonderfully to supplement the gameplan of control decks of going long. Although competition does tend to get tight in smaller Cubes for non-creature Blue spells (I'm running a 360-card Pauper Cube with less color slots than many) and I've still found it to be a card I'm happy to run for a while. It's another easy add.
Guardian Idol: one of the divisions in Cube design in the early 2010s – in the early days of Cube design — was when Tom LaPille tweeted saying that signets and signets are too good for control decks, as they make attacking decks and Green decks bad, leading many to cut signets from their Cubes. You'll still see this as one of the lines in the sand drawn by many Cube designers and some Pauper Cubes include them while others do not. Personally, I've not found them to be detrimental to aggressive and Green decks through data tracking over the years. It's slightly harder to find opportunities for Guardian Idol to attack than in formats where uncommons and rares enter the mix since wraths at common are either pretty inefficient (but still good) like Pestilence and Crypt Rats, or are represented by mini-wraths with cards like Ashes to Ashes, Pyrotechnics, and Arc Lightning. That said, it's still been a good mana rock thus far, even with the drawback of entering the battlefield tapped. Management of the opponent's board has helped create opportunities for the Guardian Idol to attack for 2 and it's a great add to the format.
Lastly, Mark of Mutiny is the best Threaten effect in the format for pound-for-pound damage through its +1/+1 counter being added. It breaks the trend of Threaten + a bonus by costing instead of — this doesn't tend to matter as much in the later stages of the game and while it's not a huge deal breaker, it's still a nice benefit. This 3-0 deck didn't run it in the maindeck (it arguably could have) but it worked wonderfully in the sideboard to steal annoying blockers:
Mark of Mutiny Deck ? Pauper Cube| Usman Jamil
- Creatures (13)
- 1 Bloodlust Inciter
- 1 Borderland Marauder
- 1 Foundry Street Denizen
- 1 Ghirapur Gearcrafter
- 1 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 1 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 1 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Nest Robber
- 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 1 Pestermite
- 1 Scorched Rusalka
- 1 Sparksmith
- 1 Thriving Grubs
Wrangle may be close since it's so cheap and the quality of 5+ CMC creatures is a lot lower than in formats with uncommons and above and it's able to act as a mini-Lava Axe by clearing something out of the way quickly. Mark of Mutiny is still a great card for Red beatdown decks and, depending on your Cube size and needs, you may be good to just have both.
The rest of these cards aren't as good and you may have a hard time including them:
Draconic Roar, Foul-Tongue Invocation, Dragonlord's Servant — tribes are very hard to make work in Cube without doing drastic changes to at least one color, if not rebalancing the cube entirely. It's not worth the damage that it does to other things nor does it usually end up creating good decks. These just aren't worth the support in this format.
Scion of Ugin — Air Elementals have generally been prized in Limited, but Pauper Cube requests more efficient threats. Since Air Elemental isn't really printable at common, it outclasses just about everything in the skies, we’re stuck with things like Scion of Ugin. However, I found it to be in the same boat with other big french vanilla creatures —it just didn't do enough for the cost, it was fragile and extremely awkward if answered with removal and even the control decks didn't want it.
Earth Elemental joins Fire Elemental from Alpha as a common-shifted card, but it hasn't stood the test of time with cards like Wayward Giant and Vildin-Pack Outcast making it look weak by comparison and there aren't really many slots for these kinds of high-cost cards, especially in a color with such an aggressive bent as Red. Like Scion of Ugin, it just doesn't do enough.
Star Compass suffers from being the worst of all worlds by entering the battlefield tapped, doing a poor job of mana fixing, and not giving any real payoff for going through those hoops. Even if you're curtailing mana rocks in your Pauper Cube, this is just a poor card.
Darksteel Axe — indestructibility isn't a huge benefit and this is ostensibly worse than Bonesplitter. It's a cheap artifact for Metalcraft/Trinket Mage but its equip cost is still a lot and I've found that it's clunky due to that high equip cost. Because of that, it impressed me less and less over time. The era of “pushed” equipment is over, but this is still a rough sell for Cube.
Jhessian Thief is the best Ophidian in the format. There have been incremental improvements on the effect since the original Ophidian, going from Ophidian → Scroll Thief → Jhessian Thief. However, there are a ton of great 3-drops in Blue and even recent sets like Ixalan gave us a few more great Blue 3-drops with Watertrap Weaver and Siren Lookout. As cliché as it is to say, even with Prowess acting as a somewhat deterrent to stop opponents from blocking as it could represent a combat trick, it still lacks real evasion, making it another one of these effects that looks better than it is.
Angel of Mercy is the original Hour of Devastation's common Aven of Enduring Hope, downshifted to meet the new bird's rarity. I found Aven of Enduring Hope's lackluster body to be merely ok. Much like Staunch Defender's downshift to common in Tempest Remastered, I found it to be too slow and the format generally prefers more efficient and better bodies like Lone Missionary and Aven Riftwatcher for the narrow niche of good lifegainers in Pauper Cube. Sustainer of the Realm suffers similarly by being a pretty weak flier and the format already has options for color-shifted Azure Drakes, like Makindi Griffin (which hardly sees Pauper Cube play), Seraph of Dawn (which does) and Sanctum Gargoyle (which is great if artifact decks are a thing in your Pauper Cube.)
Furnace Whelp — I found that no decks wanted this as it was too low impact as a Wind Drake + Firebreathing and midrange and control decks wanted something that either had a better base body or something like Beetleback Chief to take over the game. It can turn the corner quickly if the skies are clear, but it's poor otherwise.
Ivy Elemental — I talked about Slime Molding previously in that it's a cost inefficient threat and while flexibility is highly valued in Cube, where decks (should be) varied, I found that it ended up performing very poorly. There are some pluses and minuses for being a creature (Gravedigger/Raise Dead effects) and not being a spell (Archaeomancer/Izzet Chronarch style effects) but it mainly just has the same inefficiency pitfalls, making it a weak card for Pauper Cubes.
- Topan Freeblade
- Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- Sandsteppe Outcast
- Otherworldly Journey
- Test of Faith
- Sheer Drop
- Cloudfin Raptor
- Stormbound Geist
- Clutch of Currents
- Carrion Feeder
- Disowned Ancestor
- Butcher Ghoul
- Dead Reveler
- Gore-House Chainwalker
- Blood Ogre
- Splatter Thug
- Gorehorn Minotaurs
- Young Wolf
- Peema Outrider
- Nessian Asp
- Rhox Maulers (which already has trample)
- Travel Preparations
Green and White have the most hits, although some are conditional, making it look like there are more hits than there are (Sandsteppe Outcast.) Therefore, you won't be able to build around Ceratok's ability, but it's more just gravy on top of its body, that just happens to give a few creatures trample. Is, therefore, a 4/3 trampler for worth playing, as an Order of the Sacred Bell with trample? It's likely not.
Virulent Swipe, Survival Cache, Prey's Vengeance, and Emerge Unscathed — ended up looking better than they were, since they lacked real opportunities for value. The best rebound cards are able to get advantages on their own, like Staggershock's free damage via Staggershock, Consuming Vapors's free edict (in Cubes that allow for rares) and these require there to be just the right board state for advantage to happen, which frequently didn't. Survival Cache was great in retail Rise of the Eldrazi Limited as it was a haymaker format where card advantage was king and you'd almost always draw 2. This just doesn't scale well because it's inefficient at drawing and gaining life isn't really worth a card.
Riverwheel Aerialists, like Scion of Ugin, is a big dumb flier and usually outclasses everything in the skies, but suffers similar drawbacks by having minimal impact. Having prowess let it close games out quickly if it could be protected, but it was, like Scion of Ugin, too low impact by being “just a big flier” even with some extra text added.
Wight of Precinct Six requires a long game to get bigger than a 2/2. Doing so either requires having a game plan where this is the last thing standing and found this wasn't usually the case, being another card that looks better than it is because it's very difficult to get payoff to make it work.
Lead the Stampede — These type of effects almost never work in Cube, alas, as I found one of the better versions of this type of effect (look at the top X, find something that matches the critia) — Augur of Bolas, ended up being pretty disappointing and being able to draw 2 “gas” creatures typically wasn't worth it (16 creatures needed) and this fared worse.
Duskdale Wurm is a generic big Green creature, but suffers because it doesn't really compare all that well to other options — is this even better than Greater Sandwurm? Or Maul Splicer? Or Rampaging Hippo? Or Siege Wurm/Oakgnarl Warrior (possibly the latter) or Fangren Marauder? It does outclass all of these on a pure size basis, but found this didn't do enough on its front end and a Pauper Cube isn't really starving for big Green clunkers. If you *really* need the beef, I'd put it in the mix, but it performed poorly.
Jaddi Offshoot doesn't provide enough long-term game impact or immediate benefit aside from being a Wall of Wood. If you're looking to play a Wall of Wood in your Pauper Cube, play Tinder Wall, not this.
Jace's Phantasm is a trap. Threshold is hard enough to hit in Cube and while this has a bigger payoff for hitting the bonus, it's just too much work.
Indulgent Tormentor is pretty good as a big “Baneslayer” which requires a quick answer because, although it does let the opponent choose and you'll likely never draw a card from it, it still represents a lot of damage — and should be mainly viewed as a big beatstick rather than something that could maybe make the opponent lose out on card advantage. Black 5-drops are pretty shallow with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Okiba-Gang Shinobi, Rakshasa Gravecaller, and Shriekmaw, so it doesn't have much competition, but it's a nice card to supplement them.
Hoarding Dragon — is a nice Air Elemental with a bonus a la Murder of Crows. Getting a decent artifact has helped to give it some death insurance and, although it's not really for aggressive decks, it can do in a pinch if you can't get a Charging Monstrosaur in your deck. Its overall impact is pretty good for Peasant Cube.
Mahamoti Djinn is a card that's similar to Riverwheel Aerialists and unfortunately suffers a lot of the same pitfalls as it, by being a big creature that doesn't impact the board, which is more of a factor than in Pauper in a world where uncommons bring a bevy of great creatures that have ETB triggers. It can close a game out quickly if protected, but it's still pretty slow and, therefore, a card that may be a cautious add.
Heroes' Bane is a mana sink, at least. It gets “monstrous” pretty easily and can take over games as an Abyss since it outclasses just about everything else. It's worth a look if big Green ramp decks and midrange are in the market for another finisher in your Pauper Cube.
Rosheen Meanderer aged poorly as a 4/4 for four just isn't considered to be a stat monster by 2017 standards, especially in an era when Peema Outrider is printed as a common. Since there aren't many spells in Peasant, there isn't much payoff here. The same applies to Bladewing the Risen with a grand total of 25 dragons (pre-Iconic Masters) at uncommon, and most aren't really on a Cube power level, so this isn't going to do much.
Corpsejack Menace is yet another Winding Constrictor type of card which, like Rosheen, doesn't have backbreaking stats anymore. Its ability is pretty mediocre, like Crowned Ceratok's and therefore, likely won't have a home unless going incredibly deep on +1/+1 counters.
I hope you've enjoyed this review! Let me know what you think of how the cards were being covered in the article — if you prefer the “big winners” first or if you like the mechanic breakdown more, like my other reviews.
Cube podcast, The Third Power, that Anthony Avitollo and I host.
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