As I mentioned last week, Born of the Gods has given me the opportunity to reevaluate some of the themes in my cube. I wanted to go deeper into the heroic mechanic, since I think the interaction between heroic and the bestow cards is elegant (and they’re all pretty excellent). I had already been rocking an aura subtheme before heroic was even spoiled, and now we’re starting to get the type of support that a mechanic can really rest upon. For the most part these creatures are good enough even without pants, but it’s when you throw some pants on them that things get interesting.

You know pants, yes? Positive creature enchantments! Ever since Theros I’ve been slowly subbing the Totem Armor cards back into my cube. Totem Armor is a classic Rise of the Eldrazi mechanic that would make for an interesting resurrection in the final set of Theros, even though there’s not much design space left for the cards. They’re still quite neat, in that they take the hit for your creature should it be destroyed by damage or effect. Now, it can still die for real if it ever has less than zero toughness, but for the most part it’s such a powerful mechanic that it does some heavy lifting in the Modern Bogled deck. So, yeah, it’s in the cube. I’m still holding off on Eel Umbra, since it’s just a weird effect in blue (it’s a counter for creature death!), but Snake Umbra, Spider Umbra, and Hyena Umbra are finally all in the cube.

Anyway, let’s go to the changes:



Icatian Javelineers Gods Willing
Cavalry Pegasus Loyal Pegasus
Master of Diversion Elite Skirmisher
Dawnstrike Paladin Akroan Skyguard
Force Spike Chorus of the Tides
Doorkeeper Wavecrash Triton
Halimar Wavewatch Nyxborn Triton
Tragic Slip Nyxborn Eidolon
Hired Torturer Mortis Dogs
Keldon Maurauders Kragma Butcher
Lobber Crew Rukh Egg
Vent Sentinel Pharagax Giant
Pyrotechnics Dynacharge
Arbor Elf Karametra’s Favor
Thornweald Archer Snake Umbra
Gatecreeper Vine Nyxborn Wolf
Overgrown Battlement Setessan Oathsworn
Axebane Guardian Treefolk Mystic
Sporemound Pheres-Band Tromper
Walker of the Grove Snake of the Golden Grove
Copper Carapace Skyreach Manta
Rupture Spire Desert

My cuts basically fall into four categories. There are the cards I cut to depower control, the cards I cut to reinforce green’s mana supremacy, the gutted defender strategy, and then the underwhelming rest. Category one covers Tragic Slip, Pyrotechnics, and Force Spike. Tragic Slip is just a little too powerful for removal in the cube. Creatures die, a lot, and it’s particularly nasty when paired up with another removal spell. Pyrotechnics is just another X-for-1 that I felt needed to be taken out of red. The color is just not supposed to be the primary one for that type of card advantage! It’s weird. And with Force Spike, I wanted to add more creatures into blue, and of all the counterspells blue currently has, this one seemed like the least fun. It’s a shame, as I love the foil, but I feel like this is a step towards bringing the cube more in line with my own play style.

The pro-green changes were pretty straightforward. Arbor Elf needed to go, because there were just too many mana dorks and this one is the weakest. It was even picked last one pack! Mana dorks shouldn’t be 15th picks. And Rupture Spire is part of the problem; had I a decent card to bring in I would also have cut Transguild Promenade, but Desert was really the only utility land I was dying to bring in. Maybe it will show up in Journey Into Nyx. Sporemound and Walker of the Grove just were underwhelming. Walker wasn’t the super-beefy high pick I had hoped it would be, being another one that made it to 15th card status, and no one ever played Sporemound. So I don’t feel much regret about cutting them. Thornweald Archer, on the other hand, has been a borderline card for ages. It’s a weird green removal spell, only without the element of surprise like Ambush Viper. I’ve kept it in previously because I like the future-shifted foil, but I think it’s time to switch it out in favor of cards that better advance green’s plan. Still, of the cards I cut it seems best positioned to make a triumphant return at some point. Just … probably a point after the totem armors come back out. Thornweald Archer with Hyena Umbra is no fun.

Next, I took out the defender subtheme. Now, I love that theme. It reinforces my sense of whimsy, and I think it’s got some major potential as a fully formed Limited strategy. BUT! I drafted it last time, and there was no real tension. It’s such a distinct deck that you’re not really fighting over any picks with other drafters, and that’s not really all that interesting. So, cutting that theme means Axebane Guardian, Overgrown Battlement, Doorkeeper, and Vent Sentinel are all definitely out. But I also took out some of the secondary defenders, cards that probably aren’t good enough on their own in the absence of anything that cares about the theme. That’s Hired Torturer, Gatekeeper Vine, and Lobber Crew, for the record. Each one of those could probably justify its inclusion in the cube, either for the inevitability they provide or for the fixing, but I feel like it’s time for a change. So, bye bye to that deck, and hello to Heroic.

Finally, there is the underwhelming remainders. Turns out a lot of them were in white! Icatian Javelineers has been on the border for a while, another card probably kept in the cube past its expiration date just because I liked the foil. I think the cube has enough pingers in it without having to give the ability to white, too. I don’t run any of the other ones, the ones limited to attacking or blocking creatures, so it seems like this is an easy cut that improves the distinction between the color identities. It’s not like white pairs poorly with red, after all, so if a white deck wants to ping it can just splash like the rest of us. Cavalry Pegasus was an experiment that didn’t pay dividends. It’s out. Master of Diversion is a three-mana combat tapper, but I found it underwhelming enough to replace it with its heroic counterparts (in white and in blue!). And Dawnstrike Paladin was never as good as Seraph of Dawn, no matter how similar they may look on the outside. The rest were just cut for unnecessary rules annoyance. Halimar Wavewatch made no sense to a new drafter, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone actually play it, so it got cut. Keldon Mauruaders is just a burn card, and I’d rather replace it with a creature that’s a little less powerful but more reliable in the long run. Battlecruiser Magic can happen in Pauper Cube! I’m just not there yet. And finally, Copper Carapace has just been underwhelming. It’s halfway between the Leonin Scimitar and the Vulshok Morningstar, only with a drawback and a hefty equip cost. I don’t mind cutting a card like that, especially for a creature.

So those are my cuts, explained. My additions are similarly straightforward. There are the first and second-degree heroic cards, as well as bringing some beef back to red and green. There are also some skies additions to help support that deck when it goes Boros, Simic, or Azorius; and, bringing up the rear, the aforementioned Desert. Desert is a solid card in pauper cube, and I find its timing drawback to be fairly charming. It’s so flavorful! But it’s also not hugely relevant to the rest of the changes I’m making.

Lets get to those changes! The first-degree heroic cards are ones that you actually want to put in short pants. I’m talking Akroan Skyguard, Setessan Oathsworn, and Chorus of the Tides, each one of which either gets beefy fast or gives some pseudo-card-advantage to defray the potential opportunity for blow-out. This also includes cards like Elite Skirmisher and Wavecrash Triton, where there’s a higher degree of tempo to their pantsing. And finally I count Mortis Dogs in this category, because even though black doesn’t have a lot of good heroic cards at common (or any), Mortis Dog is the type of card black decks can feel comfortable Voltron-ing up. When it does die, it’s going to be Lava Axe-ing your opponent’s face, so the potential card advantage can be made up via the philosophy of fire. It’s not as straightforward as the green and white heroic dudes, but I still think it’s a strong playable that’s glad to be back in the cube.

The second-degree heroic cards are cards that might not be worth running on their own, but the heroic deck brings them across the borderline. None of these cards HAS to make it into the heroic deck, but they’re utility cards that happen to work quite well in that deck. First up we have the cross-archetype target spells. This is Gods Willing, Dynacharge, Karametra’s Favor, and Snake Umbra. As you can see, some of those cards aren’t even primarily targeted at the heroic deck. Dynacharge is the best example of this. It’s a tokens/swarm enabler that got cut at some point, and you’re probably not going to want to be casting it sans overload to trigger heroic. But if you’re in the heroic deck, and you get it late, it might make it into your 23. Next we have the vanilla bestow threesome: Nyxborn Triton, Nyxborn Eidolon, and Nyxborn Wolf. Each one of them is in there to give some vanilla creatures to those colors that have extra utility if you draw them late. Sometimes you need a Goblin Piker, even in black, and each one of these cards has stats I would not be overly ashamed to include in a deck I was running. That’s why the Nyxborn Shieldmate and Nyxborn Rollicker didn’t make it, incidentally. I’m never going to be thrilled about running a 1/1 or 1/2 for one. So, outside of the heroic decks, I don’t think they’ve proven their merit. Plus, this way, each one of the included Nyxborn bestows for an even five mana, which is a symmetry that pleases me. The final second-degree heroic card is actually a hate card/mirror tech: Treefolk Mystic. This isn’t going to be an immediate “I have this card and win” inclusion, and it can be played around by a tight player. But it does provide a solution for these new Voltrons, and I’ve been itching to give it a try. Plus, it doesn’t knock off its own Auras, so if you Voltron it up it gets a lot harder to handle via simple card parity. So it’s in!

Next comes the beef. I’ve been a little disappointed with the support I’ve provided for green and red in the past. Green/Red Monsters is supposed to be all about the beef, and I had been kinda letting the deck down. Prior to this inclusion, red basically topped out at the four-spot, which was great for Boros decks but really undercut Gruul. By adding in Kragma Butcher at three, and Pharagax Giant at five, I’ve tried to slow red down a bit to make the green/red pairing more enticing. I’m probably going to have to do more down the line, as red’s three-spot is pretty packed at the moment, but for the time being it’s a solid start. On the green side of things, the walls deck had been using several spots that really should have been given over to large monsters by this point. Pheres-Band Tromper and Snake of the Golden Grove are probably not the best beef I could be using to fill that hole, but they’re both pretty intuitive to play with and against, and I was looking for cards that were complicated enough to be good without being too complicated for the unfamiliar to handle.

Which brings us to the Skies decks. Loyal Pegasus is a good inclusion. A lot of people look at the card and say “this will almost never attack on turn two, therefore it’s a bad one-drop.” I look at the card and see something that you drop on turn three or four so that you’re playing more than one threat a turn, to keep your battalion up or to make sure you have enough evasive power to keep your opponent on the back foot. Sure, you don’t play it on turn one. But people made the same argument about Rogue Elephant. I don’t run that card (due to my foil fetish), but the way that higher-level pauper cubers see it is as a question of mana conservation, not one of base stats for power. So that helps out Azorius, but Izzet fliers still happens from time to time. Since that deck is a little slower, I felt there was an opportunity to add Rukh Egg back in. I have a childhood association that makes me like that card more than I should, but even on the merits I think it is worthy of inclusion. It holds off some aggro for a turn or two before happily chumping and then cracking back for a tremendous amount. Plus, I even have the token, and I am excited about the chance to use it. Finally, there’s the support for Simic Skies. Three of the five Simic gold cards are already fliers, so it’s a deck that does have support in the cube. The unintuitive addition here for that deck is Skyreach Manta. Green’s mana abilities give Simic a chance to actually splash that thing as a 4/4 or even 5/5, and it also joins Tribal Flames in the cube as some support for the Domain theme.

And those are the changes! Twenty-two cards may feel like a lot, but we’re talking about a mere 5% of the cube evolving to a new form. Still, though, we’re only a 2% evolution off apes, so there’s a fair chance that even a change like this can shake up the way that it all plays out. And again, Theros block has provided us with some really interesting cards for the pauper set, even if I am underwhelmed by mulch on a stick.

Jess Stirba is smarter than she is wise.

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