The Community (and Pauper) Cube: M12

This is a strange event. While my natural and excited dedication to my Pauper Cube borders on mad zeal (on the side over the line, admittedly), I’ve never written one of my “set consideration” reviews for GatheringMagic. I mean, really, the whole reason I started my Cube blog was to have just such a specific and narrow content outlet.

But this is the post–Community Cube world. I have a great reason to share and open discussion on the latest commons in Magic—because today, you have the chance to vote on what should be considered for the Magic 2012 Community Cube Update! Any card that picks up a 51% or higher proportion of the vote will be matched up to potential cuts in the final update vote to come soon.

Whether you hit up a prerelease or don’t, this is your chance to weigh in on the new commons. Let’s get started!

White

There are several cards in White that lend themselves to consideration. Most of them support an aggressive theme, with one powerful exception.

Benalish Veteran

Benalish Veteran
Benalish Veteran is as obviously aggressive as it gets. While there’s nothing wrong with “just” a 2/2 for 3 mana, having a 3/3 on the offense is pretty relevant in Pauper Cubes. It’s why Nessian Courser and Centaur Courser both have homes in mine.

The problem with Benalish Veteran is that, like Windrider Eel and other Landfall creatures from Zendikar, it isn’t a 3/3. A 2/2 on the defense is fairly mediocre, and the lack of a keyword ability compounds the issue. Ultimately, he’s a fine Soldier for any Pauper Cube pushing that theme, but somewhat underwhelming in the big picture.

Gideon's Lawkeeper

Gideon's Lawkeeper
Gideon's Lawkeeper is everything you want in a tapper. Like Goldmeadow Harrier, Gideon's Lawkeeper is a coveted 1-drop that you always want to slip down early. For an aggressive deck, taking out blockers and keeping the worst of your opponent’s offenders locked down makes your job a lot easier.

One of the undervalued features of creatures like Lawkeeper is that it draws out removal that would otherwise be pointed at your attackers. Since the Lawkeeper functions as pseudoremoval for yourself, opponents are usually happy to get the Lawkeeper off the table. However, it can be dangerous to tie up your mana if you otherwise don’t need to. Playing a bigger, stronger dude to attack with can be correct over tapping something for a turn, even in the face of an opponent destroying it.

Stave Off

Stave Off
Stave Off is from the Shelter/Apostle's Blessing family of spells. At just 1 mana, Stave Off is exactly the kind of combat trick that Cubes like. The interaction created by granting a creature “protection from” is pretty silly:

  • Enchantments/artifacts (equipment) fall off.
  • Spells (removal) get countered.
  • Creature that shouldn’t live do, and creatures that should live die.

The “colorless” capability of Apostle's Blessing is neat, though you can’t target opponent’s things with it. Stave Off can, and that makes guys like Seth Burn and Alex Ullman happy. Getting another efficient version of this effect into the Cube seems strong.

Stonehorn Dignitary

Stonehorn Dignitary
Stonehorn Dignitary is a fascinating little Rhino Soldier. In one regard, he’s fairly anemic for his cost: a 1/4 for 4 mana, without any keywords or activated abilities, must come with a hell of a trigger.

He does.

Stopping combat has been limited to one-shot spells or more expensive, rarer creatures. Now it’s come to common. Stonehorn Dignitary isn’t Fog or Safe Passage, but a literal time-skip over a combat step. I found it highly relevant when facing something like Inferno Titan or Frost Titan, but any deck that wants to dig deeper, play another land, or generally slow the game down can count on this to do it.

The Dignitary doesn’t support aggro, obviously. But for slower decks, like Blue/White flying, he’s stellar. He even sits at the magical “4 toughness” mark, making him a solid blocker and very burn-resistant. Once you add in Momentary Blink and bounce effects, slower decks start to sculpt a reliable way to lock out combat long enough to take control.



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Blue

I love updating the Blue section of my Cube, and Magic 2012 did not disappoint. Blue received some interesting options for both aggressive and defensive ends.

Chasm Drake

Chasm Drake
Chasm Drake is one of what appears to be a new fount of Blue creatures that are 3/3 with Flying for 5 mana. Sky-Eel School in Scars of Mirrodin and Spire Monitor in New Phyrexia both reside in most Pauper Cubes, including my own and our Community Cube. The question becomes two parts: Is there room for Chasm Drake too, or should Chasm Drake replace one or the other of the aforementioned two?

Our new Drake is a fine addition to the Blue/White flying deck. It’s on the curve, lifts annoying things like Porcelain Legionnaire, and doesn’t have any real drawback (as you can always just target itself at worst, as it’s not a “may” trigger). However, I found something quite delicious with it: Green. Flying dinosaurs and Green fatties are not only incongruently hilarious, but also deadly powerful. Getting a Drake online with big, dumb stuff is the equivalent to flying big, dumb stuff.

I want to make that happen.

Frost Breath

Frost Breath
Frost Breath isn’t a unique card; it’s a toned-down version of something like Undo, or a kicked Rushing River. Nailing two creatures, and turning them off for another turn as well, can swing the game wide open.

Dropping some Breath can be done in two ways:

  • To stop creatures from attacking for the next two turns by casting it before your opponent’s combat
  • To open a stalemate or defense up for two turns by casting it before your combat

I’m not running Undo, but Undo isn’t an instant. I was modestly impressed by Frost Breath during the prerelease events. While it doesn’t buy tempo through committing your opponent to recasting things as though you had bounced them, it does truly lock things down.

I can see this being a flexible tool for either aggro or control decks, but it is better than other options available?

Phantasmal Bear

Phantasmal Bear
Phantasmal Bear is one of the handful of Blue creatures with 2 power for just 1 mana. Unlike Drifter il-Dal and friends, our Bear’s drawback is the classic “skulking” or “gossamer,” now “illusionary” or “phantasmal,” problem of dying upon being targeted.

With the Community Cube, as well as my own, being relatively light on tap-to-target activated abilities on creatures (like Gideon's Lawkeeper), the odds are that if the Bear is being targeted, it was dying anyway. Since we can’t stack multiple Bears in Cube Draft, and there won’t be a Lord of the Unreal to pair with it, what does Phantasmal Bear do?

It blocks, both early and often. It’s slower and slightly awkward, but it will trade with almost any on-the-ground 1- or 2-drop creature presented. Is this valuable? Well, does it help things that it’s one of the few Blue 1-drops that can actually deal respectable damage if an opponent is coming out slower?

That’s your call.

Skywinder Drake

Skywinder Drake
I mentioned late last week I was writing about Skywinder Drake in three different articles. This is that third article. (See my Cube blog and my latest Serious Fun for the other two.)

I’m a fan of the idea of helping Blue “fight back” and attack in Cubes. For Pauper Cubes, this is relatively important; in regular Limited, Blue has ways to crack in for good damage thanks to uncommon creatures with Flying. As Pauper pulls from the core essentials of Limited, commons, I’ve pushed to ensure Blue has tools to bring to fight despite the lack of these uncommons.

Cloud Spirit and Rishadan Airship are two of the flagship choices here, and Skywinder Drake is the third to fit the 3-power-with-flying-for-3-mana model of Blue aggression. While they can’t block anything nonflying, they fulfill the unique spot of being sufficiently powerful for their cost. I plan to run all three in my Cube, and I’d recommend including this in the Community Cube as well.



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Black

There are two new cards in Black that have some potential, but this section and the two remaining are fairly light. The end is in sight!

Tormented Soul

Tormented Soul
In Magic 2012 Limited, Tormented Soul turns on Bloodthirst, and makes an unlikely, but scary, Greatsword carrier. Pauper Cubes don’t need such a narrow tool thanks to the prevalence of Black creatures with Shadow and Fear, and the general lack of Bloodthirst.

However, Tormented Soul is a 1-drop. If Prickly Boggart is something that excites you, the Soul is likely better suited. I don’t have the Boggart in my Cube, and it isn’t in the Community Cube either, but it’s been eclipsed by Tormented Soul. Losing the ability to block in gaining “is unblockable” is fine with any hyperaggressive deck, such as Suicide Red/Black.

If we wanted to add the current, best unblockable 1-drop to Black, this would be it.

Wring Flesh

Wring Flesh isn’t Disfigure, and it’s easy to discount considering Wring because of that. The difference between killing anything with 1 toughness and anything with 2 toughness seems vast at first blush. However, Wring Flesh still kills almost everything that Disfigure can, it just does it when you have some up to block (or are being blocked by something).

This is the kind of “removal” spell that Seth Burn and Alex Ullman like: Yes, you’re going to kill something, but it’s happening during combat. Lots of removal can kill things at instant speed, but Wring Flesh makes the act of declaring blockers much more exciting.

Of course, it still kills tiny dudes (such as Gideon's Lawkeeper). Just don’t forget to consider what else it can do thanks to combat.



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Red

In Magic 2011, Red was considered a weaker color. Shallow, and lacking creatures that created card advantage, it was avoided in favor of other colors that had evasive creatures and slick interactions. Magic 2012 changes that assessment, thanks in part to Bloodthirst.

And unlike Bloodthirst’s appearance in Guildpact, there are several creatures that are fine to play without being thirsty.

Blood Ogre

First Strike is a powerful keyword in combat, and it’s appearing more and more regularly in Red. Blood Ogre is a fair creature at 3 mana for a 2/2 with First Strike. However, Bloodthirst 1 made this guy shine all weekend.

As mentioned above, being a 3/3 for 3 mana is a fine spot, but adding First Strike makes this guy an animal. The closest approximations Red has to this at the moment are Plated Geopede after a Landfall trigger and a kicked Pouncing Kavu. Both of those creatures come with some baggage that are much trickier than just dealing a little damage to your opponent.

Red hasn’t received many creatures like this, but I feel Blood Ogre is moving the needle in the right direction.

Gorehorn Minotaurs

There’s big, and then there’s big. Gorehorn Minotaurs was a champion all weekend in almost every game I played. Hill Giant isn’t a thrilling option, and one that costs an extra colored mana seems even rougher.

But the Minotaurs are worth it. Bloodthirst 2 tips these guys over the scale at a potential 5/5. Let me share how awesome a 5/5 is at Pauper Cube:

These guys are the real deal, and I’m very excited to add a reasonable creature that rewards Red’s natural strategy.



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Green

The color that seemed to get the least number of treats at common was Green. Titanic Growth isn’t comparable to other options at 2 mana (Vines of Vastwood), and the best new tools are at uncommon (Stingerfling Spider and Hunter's Insight).

There is one exception, though:

Arachnus Web

Arachnus Web is a Green Arrest.

Stop. Let me repeat that for you.

Arachnus Web is a Green Arrest.

This card didn’t really register for me on my first pass through reviewing the set. This card wasn’t in either of my Sealed pools over the weekend. I didn’t have to decide on the spot if it was good enough or not. But those who did decide it was good enough to include in their decks were rewarded deeply.

While there’s a sufficient number of 4+-powered creatures in Magic 2012 that the Web isn’t a true Arrest, taken to Pauper Cubes (where the average power of creatures is under 3) it’s easier to see how powerful this is. Green loves to get rid of meddling pests, like Gideon's Lawkeeper and Merfolk Looter, but it always had to turn to another color at common.

Arachnus Web changes that completely. Even better, it’s a powerful Green common that isn’t a creature. It’s like two birthdays rolled up into one! (And for the record, guess which color has the highest average creature power, as well as easiest access to pump spells? Yep, it’s Green.)



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That’s it for my Pauper Cube review of Magic 2012! But it’s not over yet.

There is one more piece of the puzzle that needs to be resolved for the coming Community Cube update: Rishadan Airship and Waterfront Bouncer. Both of these cards are unavailable on MTGO, but I somehow missed tagging them as such for our review a few weeks back. As it stands, both are listed in the Community Cube but are blanks if you tried to play online.

Oops.

If we vote to include Skywinder Drake in the next update, we can simply slot the Drake in for the Airship. While it won’t be legal until the Magic 2012 prerelease online, it’s definitely coming and should work fine. As a workaround, if you draft both Rishadan Airship and Cloud Spirit, you can double up Cloud Spirit in your deck if you want to run both (but make sure your opponent knows what’s going on, too).

Waterfront Bouncer, however, is much trickier. There isn’t anything else that’s really like him at common, and I didn’t think of anything clever to substitute as a workaround. Instead, I turn to you for suggestions to replace the Bouncer! When we vote on what to swap out for the cards we vote in, we’ll vote on the suggestions for replacing Waterfront Bouncer as well.

And if you have something else in mind for the Airship, chime in on that as well! Thanks for your help in making the Community Cube the best it can be!

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