Conspiracy and Vintage Masters Pauper Cube Update

If you missed the previous Pauper Cube updates over the past year or so, here are the last seven:

How many updates will I list in future articles? At some point, I’ll have to leave a few off, but going back through the beginning of 2013 shows just how much can change in little more than a year:

  • Multicolored sections overhauled
  • Archetypes revisited and reinforced
  • Modest expansions across every section of the Cube
  • A design philosophy evolved and expanded

Cubes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but finding smaller changes to experiment with had become an obsession of mine. Swapping in more powerful cards is still part of the plan, but adding interesting wrinkles along the way is my solution to stagnation. Arguing about which cards are the most powerful requires the context of where it’s played, but the correct context can make almost any card powerful.

For my Cube, the most common situations—excess mana late in the game, a stalemate broken by unanswered evasion, or dueling attrition engines—can be nudged in interesting ways. As the density of powerful commons continues to increase, making nonobvious choices will be rewarded more.

Let’s get started.

A summary table is available at the end of the article, as well as in the Change Log of the Pauper Cube GoogleDoc.

White

Battle Screech

The R/W deck in my Cube is meant to be the going-wide deck. Similar to red-focused Theros Draft decks, powering out an army of small creatures and overrunning opponents, the R/W deck has been lacking tools to create a critical mass of tokens. The downshifted uncommon in Vintage Masters, Battle Screech, is exactly the type of card that deck wants: Make two flying Birds, and then most likely flash it back for two more immediately at a total mana cost of {2}{W}{W}.

Neat.

Leonin Skyhunter is a fine card, but the double-white cost is at an awkward spot at 2 mana. With plenty of other options, swapping it out for what is virtually a 4/4 flying for 4 will be fine.

Battle Screech
Custodi Squire
Soltari Emissary

Custodi Squire and Soltari Emissary

Custodi Squire is a flying, better-than-Gravedigger creature that’s efficient for its size at its cost. Soltari Emissary fits into the curve of aggressive 2-drops with the option to go into shadow mode when you need it to. Both cards are obviously powerful and evasive. So what could they replace?

Those of you who hate Portal Three Kingdoms will love this: Shu Elite Companions and Shu Cavalry are gone. It isn’t that horsemanship is bad (“unblockable” is a handy way to break stalemates) or that the cards are impossible to find (though they’re admittedly difficult to acquire in the sense that your local game store will never stock them). Simplifying the Cube slightly while adding to existing themes (W/U value bounce; W/B shadow aggro) is more interesting than sheer killing power.

And you can stop complaining about not finding those cards. Deal?

Mistmoon Griffin

Another downshifted card in Vintage Masters, Mistmoon Griffin didn’t make the cut this time. While the ability is awesome, and a relic of Magic’s graveyard-order-is-fixed past, it didn’t feel like a compelling card for aggressive decks. There are better walls that aren’t in the Cube (such as Mnemonic Wall), and this would probably serve as one to threaten returning a much more powerful creature until an opponent could set up a better top creature.

Mistmoon Griffin
Circular Logic
Dream Fracture

Blue

No changes

We just made some serious changes to blue with the last update, so I was hesitant to do it again without more information. There are a few interesting cards that I have my eyes on.

Circular Logic and Dream Fracture

There are a lot of 3-mana options for hard counterspells in blue, but two are new to common. Circular Logic would ostensibly be part of a G/U madness theme, but without multiples, it’s just too thin to add to the Cube. That said, a splashable counterspell that becomes better as card go the graveyard—that is, the late game—is still interesting. If blue needs another counter, this is close to the top.

Dream Fracture is different. At first, it looks terrible: Why not just play Cancel? Well, why do some Cubes play Arcane Denial? I don’t like Arcane Denial—being 2-mana, being hard counter, replacing itself, and being splashable isn’t worth leaving your opponent up a card. Dream Fracture is similar but safer in that it gives the opponent just one card instead of two. If you like Arcane Denial, Dream Fracture is a consideration, too, but I simply replace Denial with Fracture and then Fracture with Logic.

Killer Whale

You might laugh at seeing Killer Whale as a serious consideration, but a 3/5 for just {3}{U}{U} isn't awful when you can give it flying on the cheap. There's plenty of 3 power flying blue creatures for four mana to go around, but for cubes that like to toss a few Walls in I'd suggest taking a look at this humble creature of the sea that can prey upon opponents.

I also promise to retweet anyone who gets one altered in a clever way.

Marchesa’s Emissary

How would you like a common, 3/3, hexproof creature in blue for just {3}{U}? Marchesa’s Emissary is as close as we’ll get. Since blue is rarely the aggressive side of a game, the odds of the player with the most life being your opponent are good. If tooling up three-colored themes grows, this is exactly the kind of addition Bant Hexproof wants.

Marchesa's Emissary
Chainer's Edict
Predatory Nightstalker

Black

Chainer’s Edict

Such value. Much sacrifice. Hexproof can’t doge what another Edict brings. To make room, I’m taking back out Terror, which only found its way back in trying to ease the double-black mana requirements that bog the color down. With so many other instant options that are less restrictive, Terror won’t be missed.

I mean, Chainer’s Edict kills two creatures with one card. What more than a two-for-one could you want?

Predatory Nightstalker

It’s not Shriekmaw, but it does a darn good impression. Killing a creature and leaving a 3-power body behind is what makes this a standout in Cubes with uncommons. Being downshifted makes this a no-brainer. Replacing the lackluster Duty-Bound Dead should make black aggro players cheer with delight.

Wakedancer

While morbid wasn’t the powerhouse I was hoping for in green, packed into a color that can kill creatures at will should be a different story. Generating 4 power for {2}{B} is a steal. Soulcage Fiend is tough to cast and less useful than expected. It won’t be missed.

Wakedancer
Skirge Familiar
Dauthi Mercenary

Skirge Familiar and Dauthi Mercenary

Evasive dudes that neatly replace the horsemanship creatures? Check. Interesting ability that synergize with existing archetypes? Check. Cards I want to jam into a deck to test out? Check.

We are go for launch here.

Red

Beetleback Chief and Torch Slinger

Beetleback Chief makes tokens. Torch Slinger is a returner to support R/G midrange decks. To make room, I decided to try removing two creatures that are almost always just vanilla creatures: Torch Fiend and Reckless Reveler. Artifacts haven’t been out of hand yet, so I want to see how far it can go before something needs to change back.

Beetleback Chief
Torch Slinger
Goblin General

Goblin General

Goblin General seems to be just the right card to pivot into a Goblin theme for the Cube. But the limited choices at commons—and requiring a fragile 1/1 to attack (even as a 2/2)—is a trap. Making more tokens and providing ways to pump them all regardless of type is what makes R/W tokens dangerous. I want to like Goblin General, but this isn’t the lord we’re looking for.

Green

Arrogant Wurm and Charging Rhino

Arrogant Wurm is now a common (see Vintage Masters), and it’s going to nail some cocky Hymn to Tourach player. I hope I get to do that. Snake of the Golden Grove is nowhere near as tricky.

On the other hand, Charging Rhino is a comes-in-foil version of what Ironhoof Ox is. And if it continues to work out as it has so far, the Ox might be coming right back in anyway.

Arrogant Wurm
Charging Rhino
Elephant Guide

Elephant Guide

Do you like value? Elephant Guide provides supreme value for a 3-mana Aura, and I’m looking forward to the stampede of Elephant tokens green can create. Making room is a trick I had high hopes for: Shinen of Life’s Roar. While Lure is a strong effect, green typically has very good attacks; its creatures outsize most other colors’ mana for mana.

Claws of Wirewood

It’s a miniature Hurricane locked in at X equals 3, and it’s among the few nontrivial board-wiping spells at common. Clearing the skies and burning the opponent is something green decks will use through and through. Continuing with the removal of artifact and enchantment removal, Nantuko Vigilante is taking a break for now.

Claws of Wirewood
Brindle Shoat
Lurking Automaton

Brindle Shoat

I didn’t find a place for Brindle Shoat, but I’d like to. Making a 3/3 for 2 mana is a bargain, and blocking is always a useful position in the Cube. If you have thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear in the comments.

Multicolored and Artifacts

Multicolored: no changes

There were no new commons with multiple colors. Artifacts did see their fair share of shifts.

Lurking Automaton and Cogwork Librarian

Both of these Draft-affecting Constructs are fun and cleverly skill-intensive cards. It was no question that I wanted this wrinkle in the Cube, and the most obvious place to start was with the oddly charming but middling 4-drops from Unglued. Of course, only two of the three would be cut this way, so I had to find a third card to add.

Cogwork Librarian
Mana Prism

Mana Prism

Mana Prism is, empirically, bad. Compared to Darksteel Ingot and Manalith, why would the newly-common Mana Prism even be a consideration? One of the features I discovered when the Signets were in the Cube was that good colored-mana production from colorless sources was awkward for green. Cards like Kodama’s Reach and Rampant Growth are good, but they can be outshined by colorless choices that are safer and stronger. Instead of choosing the “better” colorless mana fixer, I chose the one that gives you colorless mana—still ramping you—but that can only filter for a color.

I suspect it will serve decks that want to ramp quickly while leaving green to remain the backbone of the rare four- and five-colored decks that appear.

Summary

Color In Out Note
{W} Battle Screech Leonin Skyhunter
{W} Custodi Squire Shu Elite Companions Planned altered art
{W} Soltari Emissary Shu Cavalry Altered art
{B} Skirge Familiar Wei Elite Companions Planned altered art
{B} Chainer’s Edict Terror
{B} Dauthi Mercenary Wei Strike Force Altered art
{B} Predatory Nightstalker Duty-Bound Dead
{B} Wakedancer Soulcage Fiend
{R} Beetleback Chief Reckless Reveler
{R} Torch Slinger Torch Fiend
{G} Arrogant Wurm Snake of the Golden Grove
{G} Charging Rhino Ironhoof Ox
{G} Claws of Wirewood Nantuko Vigilante
{G} Elephant Guide Shinen of Life’s Roar
{X} Cogwork Librarian Rock Lobster Altered art
{X} Lurking Automaton Paper Tiger
{X} Mana Prism Scissors Lizard

How hard was this update? Cutting three cards with altered art—and two more that I already knew what I wanted—wasn’t something I had expected to do. Making the best choices possible for a Cube is a constant battle with our own preferences and biases.

Listen to your players, and put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s never seen your Cube before. Your updates will be better because of it.


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