Theros Pauper Cube Update

If you missed the previous Pauper Cube updates this year, here are the last four in all their glory:

This makes five Cube updates this year. That's a lot of updates for me, and I haven't always been timely.

I like to space my updates out with set releases. Every set brings new cards to consider, and making other adjustments around archetypes or balance should use the most information possible. Running in a holding pattern for a set release works because my Cube isn't drafted multiple times each week. However, that doesn't mean it isn't a good time when it does come out to play.

The evolution of Eric Klug's Zombie Cube is a direct result of the heavy use it saw in our local play group as he worked out its kinks. My update schedule suits the rate at which I receive relevant feedback. I also prioritize receiving feedback from the best players possible, which is one of the many benefits of travelling to Grands Prix and Pro Tours.

 . . . Or, perhaps, if you're travelling to a wedding.

You can even make the Cube travel to you.

The focus of this update was to help reinforce existing archetypes, update weaker-performing cards to newer options, or smooth out awkward mana. A summary table is available at the end of the article and in the Change Log of the Pauper Cube GoogleDoc.

White

Leonin Snarecaster

At first blush, Leonin Snarecaster is an obvious way to support an aggressive deck. It's a Solider, so it turns on tribal synergy and cards such as War Falcon, and it also has 2 power for 2 mana and is easy to cast. Seems like an easy add, right?

Do you remember Goblin Shortcutter? Essentially, these two cards are the same. The slight tempo edge of clearing out a potential blocker for one turn wasn't enough for the hyper-aggressive red decks, and white is a full step slower.

Leonin Snarecaster
Gods Willing
Wingsteed Rider

Gods Willing

I'm a fan of spells that grant protection. Cards like Apostle’s Blessing and Stave Off provide really flexible functions:

  • Rescue a creature from combat—or win it outright
  • Counter a combat spell or triggered ability
  • Provide pseudo-unblockability for an aggressive deck

This version of protection-granting attaches scry to the bargain. Deal!

To make room, Sunlance comes out. Sunlance isn't bad, but the power of Gods Willing as an instant outweighs a slower, weaker removal spell.

Wingsteed Rider

One of the archetypes that I've been calling into question is G/W Hexproof. I’ll admit there aren't a plethora of creatures to make hexproof redundant, but heroic triggers are a novel way to encourage targeting your own creatures with a beneficial spell.

Wingsteed Rider is a lateral change for Charging Griffin and expands the cards a G/W Hexproof deck would be looking for.

Ethereal Armor

Ethereal Armor isn't from Theros, but it did make this update. Since white is full of enchantment removal and there are plenty of "pant" in the Cube thanks to G/W Hexproof, Ethereal Armor should be a solid play in most white decks.

Righteous Blow is restrictive removal that doesn't kill plenty of things (and certainly isn't Harm’s Way).

Ethereal Armor
Omenspeaker
Benthic Giant

Blue

Omenspeaker

I asked some "very smart Magic players" which card they preferred: Sea Gate Oracle or Omenspeaker. Omenspeaker won out, not close. While it doesn't draw a card, coming down a turn earlier better sets up critical early turns and blocks well enough to be respected.

Goodbye, Sea Gate Oracle; you will be missed.

Benthic Giant

One of the things blue wants to do in my Cube is block. Blue and green have the best endgame plans, and a giant hexproof monster to stop on the ground (and expand the G/W Hexproof theme into a full-on Bant possibility) is an excellent way to stop nearly every other ground creature in the game.

Blue has an aggressive potential, but all of the creature-bounce spells are meant to delay opponents until larger, better options are available for blue.

Drafting mono-blue is a rare feat, but it’s one that should reward you with what blue does best. Spined Thopter has been less and less impressive for a color that doesn't want to lose extra life, and adding another big blocker to stabilize the game makes sense.

Voyage’s End

Bounce spells are excellent in blue. Delaying opponents and disrupting otherwise-sound plans are two of blue's biggest appeals. While Disperse isn't in the Cube, tacking on scry to smooth the next draw really changes how good the card is.

Perilous Research was a fine experiment, but using a spell to save your own creature instead of converting it into a random card is usually the right play. Scry makes the right play even better.

Voyage's End
Breaching Hippocamp
Stymied Hopes

Breaching Hippocamp

I'll be honest: When I first read this card, I imagined flying was in there, too. If so, this would almost be like a super-Pestermite, but instead, it's a reasonable power-to-mana-cost creature that can serve as a combat trick. I'm not sure it really fits into blue's plan, but holding up mana for reactive spells is something that suits blue well. If more are needed, this will definitely be a consideration.

Stymied Hopes

Daze is incredible because it can be a slightly more expensive Force Spike if needed, but all the same, it can surprise opponents when you're tapped out. Stymied Hopes trades the free-to-play function for scry. Weaker than Miscalculation, but still a strong option in the early game, this may make its ways into the Cube if more universal (if less powerful) countermagic is needed.

Prescient Chimera

Usually, blue gets a 3/3 with flying and a bonus ability for 5 mana. Here, it's a 3/4, and the ability ties right into what blue is already doing. I'm not sure it's better than the current options (3/3 flying with flash, 3/2 flying with card-draw, 2/2 with card-draw), but it definitely looks better as a blocker.

Prescient Chimera
Read the Bones
Viper's Kiss

Black

Read the Bones

Read the Bones is seeing Standard Constructed play right now. It's a powerful way to dig up to four cards deeper, it leaves you up a card, and it fits right into both B/R aggro (draw to more gas) or U/B control (set up what you need next).

Nausea has underperformed for three reasons:

  • The token decks haven't been as explosive as first predicted. Nausea hasn't been needed.
  • Evincar’s Justice and Pestilence do a better job at Nausea's job than Nausea by far.
  • Many of black's creatures only have 1 toughness. Casting Nausea is often worse than anything else.

Swapping an underperforming spell for absurd card-draw seems fine.

Viper’s Kiss

I'm not a fan of -1/-1 effects. While they can be great in specific circumstances, it's usually far larger things that end up killing you. What makes Viper’s Kiss stand out to me is the Arrest functionality. Shutting off abilities can, narrowly, make a huge difference in some games. While most of the tricky creatures with activated abilities have only 1 toughness, it's unclear what the future holds.

Red

Titan’s Strength

It's no secret I love Brute Force. The abilities to make first strike count, win combat in a color unexpectedly, and gain another Lightning Bolt when an opponent can't block are all wonderful. Titan’s Strength may not be a true Giant Growth variant (adding only 1 toughness instead of 3 does matter), the fact that the card includes scry as well is huge. Red doesn't see much card-filtering, though it's slowly changing each set. Scry in a deck that can burn an opponent out is terrifying.

Similar to Nausea, Electrickery hasn't pulled its weight, so out it goes.

Titan's Strength
Lightning Strike
Minotaur Skullcleaver

Lightning Strike

There's no way a functional copy of Searing Spear doesn't make the Cube. While Volcanic Hammer and Fire Ambush may be similar and weaker, piling up the redundancy for burn is important for the Cube. Burn functions as both removal and win condition. Fireball and Rolling Thunder are first-pick cards. Splashing for a little burn isn't uncommon. In order to give red a chance to have its own density of burn spells in a dedicated deck, more of them than you'd expect are needed.

And, in a fine twist, Flame Slash finally comes out. Having 4 toughness was already a critical threshold in the deck, particularly against red. With more haste and reach than ever before, red doesn't need Flame Slash as much as it did before.

Minotaur Skullcleaver

In the Magic 2014 update, I pointed out that Blur Sliver was a possibility: 2/2 haste for 3 mana is a fine card. Minotaur Skullcleaver feels similar to Inner-Flame Acolyte but doesn't require {R}{R} to cast. In a color-hungry deck like R/G or B/R, the difference between needing two of a color on turn three or not can be the difference in casting it on time or not. A 4/2 haste on turn three is also similar to the ideal Boros plays from Dragon's Maze, and it will certainly put pressure on opponents early.

Hanweir Lancer was a fun experiment, but it didn't live up to its potential. Coming from Avacyn Restored and its weak removal, it was easy to use first strike effectively on offense and defense. There's too much bounce and good removal in my Cube for soulbond to be as effective.

Ill-Tempered Cyclops

Monstrosity is a strange mechanic for my Cube. It's similar to level up in that it takes a significant investment of mana to see the full reward, and therefore, it leaves you exposed to blowouts against good removal. But in the right decks, typically those with ramp or in games that go long, the mana sink is a wonderful thing.

Ill-Tempered Cyclops is a fine card on its own, as an upgraded Hill Giant, but making it to a 6/6 with trample puts it at the top of the class in terms of powerful creatures in the Cube. While it's not explosive like Gorehorn Minotaur, being easier to cast and serving the needs of the ramp deck (which is lacking enough mana sinks to take advantage of) is enough for me to give it a try.

Ill-Tempered Cyclops
Two-Headed Cerberus
Portent of Betrayal

Two-Headed Cerberus

Double strike isn't a common ability at common. Giving red more access to first strike and turning the three different flavors of Brute Force into potential 8 damage swings is intimidating. Starting out as a de facto 2/2 for {1}{R}{R} just isn't enough in a Cube filled with great removal.

Portent of Betrayal

I asked local players, including Eric Klug, which they liked more: Traitorous Instinct or Portent of Betrayal. Unanimously, Traitorous Instinct was picked. Adding power puts additional pressure on opponents and almost ensures a block becomes an act of chumping. While scry is great in red, it isn't better than efficient aggression.

Wild Celebrants

While I'm happy with my minimal selection of artifact removal in the Cube, I feel Wild Celebrants makes a great upgrade over Ingot Chewer for other Cubes. It's a respectable body for nearly the same cost, and without a target, I'd still be happy to play it on curve. It's a fair balance that drives Hearth Kami and Torch Fiend to stick around for me.

Wild Celebrants
Nessian Asp
Gladecover Scout

Green

Nessian Asp

It's a Spider! No, it's a fatty! No, it's a mana sink!

Nessian Asp does it all, and it was fairly impressive so far in Theros Limited. While it lacks the trample of Stampeding Rhino, extra toughness and a promise to become an 8/9 is more than enough to have this swap in.

Gladecover Scout

Gladecover Scout isn't in Theros, but G/W Hexproof (as scary as it sounds) hasn't been that impressive so far.

Wandering Wolf is meant to work with Auras and pump spells, but just using a hexproof creature instead is safer and builds consistency for the deck.

Time to Feed

While we just added Hunt the Weak with the last update, Time to Feed functions very similarly and shaves a mana off the cost. Efficiency here means a lot more than the +1/+1 counter, and life-gain is often more relevant in tight games.

Time to Feed
Savage Surge
Feral Invocation

Savage Surge

I thought Modern Masters would be the only set with downshifted uncommons to look at. Return to Ravnica's Savage Surge is a common in Theros, and it's a phenomenal combat trick. Winning combat and saving your attacker is great, but surprising your opponent with an unexpected and big blocker is often better.

Edge of Autumn was the weakest ramp spell in the Cube, and the cycling aspect was only helpful when flooding out. Changing out a narrow, situational spell for a more helpful option seems fine.

Feral Invocation

Feral Invocation feels like a cross between Moldervine Cloak and Wildsize. While you don't get to draw a card or bring it back over and over, serving as both a combat trick and permanent boost is a unique mix that helps build out the hexproof deck.

Evolution Charm has been a pet card of mine forever (since the Cube's inception), but it hasn't delivered on the strength its options suggest. Changing it out for a more focused card that builds on an archetype is right.

Multicolored

Slippery Bogle

Similar to Gladecover Scout, fitting more hexproof into the Cube will flesh out the archetype as a reliable option to draft. Unfortunately, G/U is where there are plenty of really sweet cards already (unlike, say, U/R and B/G). While it's painful, Drakewing Krasis is the card that least fits what G/U wants to do: hold down the fort (Frilled Oculus, Beetleform Mage) and then go over the top (Assault Zeppelid). Snakeform was untouchable as card-drawing removal. I love Drakewing Krasis, but it isn't a valuable mana sink for G/U ramp.

Slippery Bogle
Fleetfeather Sandals
Unknown Shores

Artifacts

Fleetfeather Sandals

Riot Gear was always underwhelming. Giving flying and haste for the same cost is a clear upgrade.

Land

Shimmering Grotto, Unknown Shores

Shimmering Grotto and Unknown Shores are functionally identical cards. While the four- and five-colored good-stuff decks are rare to see, these are here to nudge things toward making multicolored a little more accessible. Transguild Promenade and Rupture Spire certainly make it easy to cast anything, but the tradeoffs of sinking mana and waiting turned many players off. With the bounce lands fully returned, I'm comfortable switching out better, true fixing for lands that can be played earlier without wrecking the curve.

Summary

I'm really excited to see how these changes affect Drafts. Including more cards that fit best in specific archetypes is interesting, but the tradeoff of fewer "generically good" cards is something I'm concerned about. My Cube philosophy is to push toward the strongest commons possible with the strongest decks possible. Hexproof can be an unbeatable deck, but without a critical mass of cards, it's not going to have an impact.

When Born of the Gods hits in February, be sure to keep your eyes on the Change Log and Spoiler tabs of my Pauper Cube Spreadsheet for the update before the article hits.

Bonus: On Bestow

Alex Ullman believes bestow is a fantastic mechanic for my Cube. Bestow creatures serve both as Auras that put smaller guys over the top and as valuable insurance to have guys to cast on the curve. I'm not sold on bestow just yet, but if I were to add it to my Cube, it would look like this:

Color In Out Reason
{W} Observant Alseid Icatian Javelineers Weak, slow removal
{U} Nimbus Naiad Hands of Binding Inconsistent removal
{B} Baleful Eidolon Blind Zealot Weak, slow removal
{R} Spearpoint Oread Scorchwalker Inconsistent effect
{G} Leafcrown Dryad Dawntreader Elk Redundant, weaker ramp

While this chart is oversimplified, these are the best fit changes I can find. Alex is a bigger fan of Hopeful Eidolon since its bestow only costs 4 mana, but I'd rather hedge toward having a relevant creature if removal is used in response to bestow. One the curve, each of these creatures stands fine, if unexciting.

Here's the deal: If you agree with Alex and want to see some or all of the bestow guys swapped into the Cube, you need to convince me. Post your argument below in the comments, mention me on Twitter, or flag me down personally at an event (assuming I'm not running around on text coverage).

Additionally, if you think I'm right, tell me so. If enough people tell me I'm wrong, I'm game to give bestow a chance. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until Born of the Gods to see if bestow can convince me.


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