After failing in an attempt to set up a casual sealed event with packs from Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissention, Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze (or RGDDGR, as the kids say), I had an opportunity to draft my Pauper cube before making any Born of the Gods changes. Since it has been a while since I’ve last had a chance to shake the dust off my baby, I leapt at the chance to see what was working in practice, as opposed to what things just work in theory. Since it’s been a while since I last discussed my Pauper Cube in this space, I’m going to give y’all a brief primer on what it looks like before talking about the draft, and my plans for it going forward.

People giggle when they hear my cube is 420 cards, but it has NOTHING to do with marijuana. Which, if you smoke or whatever that's your choice and I am not throwing any stones here, but it's a really nice number to have for a cube! This way there's some variety, and if need be I can stretch to a ten person pod (with 14 card packs). It's so perfect! A mere drug reference could never be so perfect.

People giggle when they hear my cube is 420 cards, but it has NOTHING to do with marijuana. Which, if you smoke or whatever that’s your choice and I am not throwing any stones here, but it’s a really nice number to have for a cube! This way there’s some variety, and if need be I can stretch to a ten person pod (with 14 card packs). It’s so perfect! A mere drug reference could never be so perfect.

My cube consists of 420 common cards, split evenly between the five colors.  The point of 420 cards over a more sleek 360 is to preserve some variety between different draft experiences; each time you draft it with an eight person pod, you’re playing without 60 cards, which should better replicate the unpredictability of a real draft environment while still allowing for each archetype to generally have most of the cards they’re looking for in the mix.

Prooooobe…. In my cube, this is “hybrid.”

Each individual color has 54 cards, with more creatures than non-creature permanents, although that split varies based on color identity. Blue and Red, for example, come a lot closer to a 50/50 ratio than the other three colors, just due to their identity as the “spells” colors. Each two-color pairing has five gold cards and then an additional three “hybrid” slots. There are no three-color cards. “Hybrid,” in this case, is more of a term of art than an actual description of what fits into that slot; while there are cards like Snakeform and Unmake in there, there are also cards with off color flashback or kicker (like Jilt or Fires of Undeath), as well as creatures with ties to secondary colors in their abilities (Scholar of Athreos and Avacyn’s Pilgrim) or their requirements (Kird Ape). What this means in practice is that Green has a few more creatures than the other colors, but since that fits with the color identity I’m okay with that.


Hulk smash?

At only 35 cards, I could stand to beef up my artifacts/colorless section, but I haven’t really felt the need in the past. This section has 13 creatures, including the biggest creature in the cube (hey there Ulamog’s Crusher), and 22 artifacts, half of which are equipment.


Currently the only utility land in my cube, although I think I might change the Rupture Spire and Transguild Promenade out for Desert and another common utility land… the mana is good enough as is.

And rounding out the 420, I have 35 lands in the cube. I was discussing this choice with fellow cube designer (and pauper master) Alex, and he explained that he was in the 12-land camp, worrying that too many lands eat into green’s color identity. I am sympathetic to that argument, and think in many environments it’s probably the right call, but one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about cube environments is valuing non-basic lands and making them relatively high picks. Since I’m focused on such a multicolor experience, having plentiful fixing does seem like it’s valuable for all colors… although I do agree with his concerns in theory, one of the reasons that I only run two mana rocks: Prismatic Lens and Mind Stone.


Not the first card to do this (hi, Wee Dragonauts), but certainly a card that deserves to be the Trope Namer. And with Nivix Cyclops, there’s enough support to make the archetype a real thing.

Alex won the draft, of course. I used my builder’s knowledge to draft a weird and very specific archetype: 4-Color Walls. It was a lot of fun! He, meanwhile, followed the strong cards and ended up in Blazing Boros, actually defeating Bigger Boros in the finals. Other archetypes represented were Extort, Mono-Black, Gx Greed, UG Tempo, and Kiln Fiend to round out the pod. The Kiln Fiend deck was awesome, even when he wasn’t just putting Madcap Skills on Underworld Cerberus, but that deck is weak to spot removal, a specialty of the Orzhov colors.

Tribal decks don’t always work in a cube environment, but the Faeries are usually powerful enough on their own to make it worth it.

Anyway, those are just a few of the intentionally supported archetypes built into the cube. There’s also White Weenie, Reanimator, Sacrificing, Auras, Fairies, Flickermancer, Green Ramp, Skies, and a lot of varieties of “Good Stuff.” I don’t want to go too heavily into the archetype zone, since I want people to be able to win with combinations of cards that haven’t been specifically put together, but it’s possible that some of these cards are just too good to keep the variety I want in my draft environment. I am particularly worried about red’s two-for-ones; I previously had to take out Roiling Thunder, and not just because the card has no foil. Cards like that (and Pestilence, and Sprout Swarm, and Evincar’s Justice) warped the environment by the virtue of being nearly unstoppable card advantage machines. And I wanted to stay away from that, because I think it makes the format less fun.


With a mechanic this elegant, how could I not want to run it?

Those aren’t the only things I wanted to keep out of my cube, for their inherent unfunnery. Two popular mechanics that you won’t find in my cube are Morph and Flanking. Flanking, like Phasing, is one of the abilities that drove my younger self out of the game back when Visions first came out. For a younger player without the same sort of community that the Internet now makes easy, flanking seemed overly complex and not very fun. Now that I better understand the mechanic, what I dislike about it is how it disincentives blocking with multiple blockers. There are a lot of formats that make blocking bad, Theros being one of them. But I like blocking. My preference is for higher-level combat math, and that’s what I want to be replicating in my cube. So, no Flanking. And obviously no Phasing as well.

It's in the dealer's hand.

126 cards with morph. Can you spot the queen?

Morph, though, raises a different objection. It’s an old mechanic based on secret information where Magical historians are disproportionately advantaged due to their knowledge of what those cards could potentially be. There are a set number of common morph cards, and only a subset of the best of those show up in cube environments, even of the pauper variety. That means that if I swing into a morph, whether or not it’s in my cube, I’m going to have a better understanding of what I could be facing than a person without an annoyingly encyclopedic knowledge base. I don’t like mechanics like that. I mean, knowing what could possibly happen is a great Magic skill, and developing it is a major part of becoming a better player. But Morph is such a flagrant knowledge check that I think it’s off-putting to those without that skill. Add in Morph’s ridiculous rules interaction (the ability doesn’t use the stack, which…oy), and I think my draft environment is better off without it.

While this card might one day make it into the cube, I can promise you… this art won’t.

Still, I think I want to develop the environment more going forward. One of the things I am strongly considering in the run up to adding in Born of the Gods is the idea of further developing the Heroic subtheme. I think it’s a good support for the auras, and it would give me further incentive to do something I should already be doing: cutting out the ridiculous unconditional removal in favor of more bounce and pump effects. Right now there’s a lot of the best cards in the history of removal, because Terror, Doom Blade, and friends are usually commons, as is all the best burn. Dialing that back a bit in favor of some bounce and some good ole’ fashioned Giant Growth effects seems like an opportunity to make combat more important, and that’s the environment for me.

So that’s my cube at this point in its life! It’s a beaut, all foil and oriented around fun, and I’m proud of it. Next week I’ll dig a little deeper into the specific changes I want to make regarding that Heroic update, and what cards from Theros and Born of the Gods will come in to make that happen. After that I’ll be heading back to Commander, but if the design of cubes, and pauper cubes in particular, is your cup of tea, I strongly recommend checking out Alex’s column over at Gathering Magic. He’s a great guy, and he does a really good job at breaking down his process when designing.

Jess Stirba is out (and proud)!

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