Hope Eternal—Drafty With a Chance of Cubes

This was not a Modern week for me; even Magic superfans get busy from time to time, and after navigating the DMV the other day I didn’t have the patience for several more hours in an enclosed space. So today I’d like to talk about Cube.

See, I have a cube. It’s a Pauper cube, and I’ve foiled out much of it, but it took me a while to get to a point where I could feel it was properly balanced. Would you like to see the list? Here it is!

Here are some basic stats you might not want to have to troll through a spreadsheet to figure out. It’s 420 cards, not for any cultural reasons but because I wanted to be able to do a full eight-person draft pod without including every card, to give it some variety. It’s a little more heavily multicolor than many cubes, with currently 54 slots devoted to each basic color, 50 slots devoted to gold cards, and 30 slots for “hybrid” cards. This last category is a bit interesting, because it’s full of cards you’re most likely to play in decks that represent both colors, but you don’t have to. There are three types of cards that show up: actual hybrid cards, cards with off-color flashback/kicker/activations, and Kird Ape.

Rounding out the cube are 35 lands and 35 “colorless” cards. I put colorless in quotes there because it’s mostly full of colorless artifacts, but there are five colored artifacts due to their Phyrexian mana costs, and a colorless non-artifact creature in Ulamog’s Crusher. The lands are more obvious in their inclusions: the karoos, the guildgates, the panoramae, the borderposts, the two fetches, two gold lands and Haunted Fengraf.


It was after Gatecrash that my cube found itself a real identity in this multicolor shift. Up until that point I hadn’t been able to fully commit to multicolor, since the gate cycle was unfinished and only half the guilds had a particularly deep pool. But I went wild on the multicolor at that point, making two structural changes. First, I expanded the section as a whole. Up until that point each multicolor combination had four slots total, plus several devoted to shard cards. Second, I spun “hybrid” cards out into their own section, leaving five slots for specifically gold cards and three spots for the less easily categorized cards. Functionally, this let me play gold cards in a few colors that had been dominated by high-powered hybrids (Klaus!), which lead to the multicolor section as a whole feeling more color-balanced.

Plus, it let me add in weird cards like Mortus Strider! Before, it was a little too high-powered when it was up against cards like Probe, but I like its inclusion because there are a couple of cards that combo nicely with a creature that just won’t go away.

Between expanding the multicolor section and just my general love for RTR and GTC draft, the cube has taken on a bunch of the key commons from those formats. Twenty of the 50 gold cards have been printed in these past two sets, and I think they’re all fairly strong additions. Part of this is just because R&D really nailed the Limited mechanics this time around. There isn’t a single one that feels inappropriately powered, and the Gatecrash ones in particular are all about my type of Magic: a type that rewards you for doing the things you already want to be doing. Plus, Gatecrash has given me a lot of respect for things like the importance of two-drop fliers, which helped me bulk out my blue aggro subtheme a little.


This is my top ten list of first picks in the cube, based on color and what-not:

1. Seraph of Dawn—It was a bomb common in AVR, and it’s still one of the most powerful cards for the cost.

2. Mulldrifter—The blue card so good that its name stands in for “creature that gives value when it enters the battlefield.”

3. Tortured Existence—Totally old-school card, some people refer to it as the “black Survival.”

4. Rolling Thunder—Another old one; it’s like Aurelia’s Fury, only mono-colored and at common.

5. Rancor—Shockingly, a card that repeatedly gives your team a power boost and trample is super-good.

6. Quicksilver Dagger—I know this one might be a bit of a surprise, but it’s the closest thing in the cube to Phyrexian Arena, so…

7. Branching Bolt—In Gatecrash Limited, Clan Defiance is a bomb rare for its ability to three-for-one; Branching Bolt is its little sister, usually getting you two cards for the price of one.

8. Jilt—Talk about value; this card is usually some sort of two-for-one, and in a sweet color combo.

9. Bonesplitter—Equipment is strong in most cubes, and this may be the strongest piece of equipment ever printed at common.

10. Ulamog’s Crusher—The absolute top-end of a pauper cube.

Now, keeping a cube together isn’t all easy choices; cubing involves a lot of tough picks and inclusions, particularly on the pauper level where there aren’t the same ridiculous spikes in power. Here are some of the cards I’ve had to cut since the project started, usually for being overpowered and absolutely no fun:

Pestilence—What were they thinking making this at common?! I kept Crypt Rats in, because the basic idea of having a black mass removal/damage spell is solid, but Pestilence being an enchantment makes it that much harder to handle. It was a slam first-pick, and it really disrupted the balance of the cube.

Sprout SwarmSprout Swarm takes over games, and unless you’re a blue deck there isn’t a great way to interact with it. Even if you do deal with the tokens, usually through something like Crypt Rats or Martyr of Ashes, your opponent most likely still has the spell in hand.

Evincar’s Justice and Capsize—Like Sprout Swarm, I cut these cards because the buyback put them way above the curve. Being able to (functionally) wrath every turn, or getting your opponent into a Capsize lock, seemed to be a less interactive way to win Magic, and that’s not the type of game I like to play.

Rukh Egg—As hilarious as I thought it was that the card was once printed at common (it was, check it out), it didn’t seem to me that red needed a solid blocker that turned into a giant bird when your opponent finally manages to deal with it.

Flood and Night Soil—I took out a number of old-school overpowered enchantments, only leaving in Tortured Existence because it was card-neutral and didn’t affect the board. Flood, on the other hand, can totally lock down a non-control deck, and that seemed like it would be bad for black aggro. Night Soil, meanwhile, completely hoses what little reanimation there is in the cube (four cards), while providing a solid stream of bodies for one mana apiece. It was too powerful, and had to go.


Finally, I wanted to mention a question of aesthetics. Early on I realized that my pauper cube was likely going to be low-cost at best, since I had been playing during most of the eras from which I drew. That gave me the idea to foil out my cube; it’s an act of pride, sure, but the thing looks rather beautiful for it. Unfortunately, it’s not completely foiled; some cards were never printed in foil, while others are prohibitively expensive. But I can get behind the project of foiling out something like an EDH deck or a cube, where you’re not going to have a lot of churn in its base structure and the thing as a whole looks better for it. Plus, when everything is a foil the warp factor that a lot of different foils go through seems less of a problem.

My next step is to foil out the lands, but that raises an interesting question of preference. Currently I have all Revised basics, 30 of each type, with the same image for each land. Generally, they’re the worst images; for example, I am using the blue Mountains and the white Swamps, because I have a weird sense of humor. If I were to switch over to foil lands, I would have to use a variety of different pictures and backgrounds. Now, maybe this diversity is a good thing! But if you have all the same land image, you shave the slightest percentage points off your opponent’s read, since they can’t tell how many of what basics you’re playing. And yet another factor is that the Revised basics warp a little less than most of the foils, which can potentially interfere with randomization in shuffling. It’s a work in progress, but that’s one of the things I like about having a cube: There’s always room to tinker.


(Photos by Dana Goldstein, licensed under Creative Commons)

6 Responses to “Hope Eternal—Drafty With a Chance of Cubes”
  1. I greatly enjoyed the cube the one time I’ve played with it. I don’t think you need to be concerned with adding back Capsize and Evincar’s Justice: Capsize locking someone is not an easy task and should be an acceptable endgame for a certain type of deck in the cube. Evincar’s Justice practically doesn’t have flashback and it would be good for there to be some number of “wrath effects” in the cube to keep bear decks from flooding the board without a second thought.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Thanks, and we totally need to have that happen again. Evincar’s Justice was the one that I felt the most unsure of cutting, but the truth is there are a ton of really good cards fighting for spots in the cube, and I decided making a hard line on Buyback would be an easier thing for me and for using the cube with newer players. It’s kinda like why there’s no Morph in the cube; there are a lot of Morph staples that people like to play in cubes like this, but I find the weirdness of the morph rules interactions and the complexity that it adds to be unfriendly to the type of experience I want people to have. Like, not only is it a complicated mechanic, but the whole guessing game thing doesn’t really add much good, I think, and I don’t think people should have that much of an advantage based on whether or not they know what morph cards are in the cube.

  2. coolcyclone2000 says:

    Your cube looks sweet! For some reason, seeing cubes being composed of mostly foils looks REALLY nice.

    I also have a common cube, they’re awesome fun times! If you’d like to take a look, my cube list is https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqVhnwMQLDCVdGo4MFNQaEx0cm0wV0ZJcEdRQzdFTGc&usp=sharing . It’s sad though I don’t get to cube much nowadays.

    I was wondering about your reasons for including stuff like doorkeeper, butcher ghoul, balustrade spy, exhume, adaptive snapjaw, horned kavu, executioner’s swing, and rift bolt.

    Also, I’ve been on the fence about undying evil, duress, ghostly flicker, and temporal spring. How effective have they been? Also glad to hear quicksilver dagger is solid, it will go in my cube as soon as I can find a copy 🙂

    Thanks for the article!

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Thanks! I was totally skeptical of the foiling when I started it, but it looked great and gave me a use for all the random foil commons I acquired.

      Anyway, I’ll trade you answers for answers… I am fascinated to hear about your experience with AWOL (as I tend to avoid un-sets) and the land-finity golems.

      So, here’s my explanation for inclusions of things.

      Doorkeeper is in there because I decided to add a wall deck into the mix. I liked drafting that deck in RtR and RoE, and putting those things together offered a potential hedge against aggro (which seems like it could easily get out of control in a cube like this).

      Butcher Ghoul is there as a repeatable sac outlet in the color that wants one of those… that’s why he’s there and Young Wolf isn’t, it’s all based on color identity.

      Realistically it’s a weaker card (as is the Spy), but for the time being it holds its spot well. The Spy, similarly, is there primarily to be a less aggressive flying body with a low color commitment, but there are some fun things to do with rebuying him and/or pointing him at yourself if you’re doing gravedigging or reanimation shennanigans.

      Exhume is there for the reanimation shennanigans… it’s only a mildly supported archetype, what with about four cards that reanimate in the cube, two of which are CMC restricted (Unearth and Driver of the Dead). Really, though, it’s there for value, since the drawback is usually something you can work around.

      Adaptive Snapjaw is there because it’s cheap beef that hits hard, gets out of control fast, and yet can die to creatures below its weight class if you’re not careful with how you use it. In my eyes, that’s a pretty good thing in cube, as it allows you to skill-test play, and not just drafting.

      Horned Kavu is a cheap way to rebuy decent come into play effects, and a 3/4 for two mana is a pretty good deal. I grew to like the card in my Riku EDH deck, so I brought it into the cube and have liked its performance so far.

      Executioner’s Swing is in there because WB needed a permanent removal spell as part of its overlapping color pie, and annoyingly it was the best one. WB commons seem to be a bit more shallow than some of the other colors, though, so I could see this rotating out if something better gets printed. Plus, it gets around regeneration and such, and it has interesting interactions with fight cards (green’s primary method of removal), so I like it for now.

      Rift Bolt is there because I was impressed with it in Legacy Burn, and it’s a sorcery. I found I needed to make some conscious effort to give red sorceries, since the Anarchist effect only brings them back, and I wanted it to be the second spelliest color. Of course, when I readjusted blue to have some aggro options Red ended up as the color with the highest concentration of spells, so there’s some room to tinker with that.

      Undying Evil is great, Dana did something nasty where she evoked Mournwhelk, cast undying evil on it in response to the sac trigger, and then completely wrecked her opponent’s hand. It has a lot of neat interactions, and it’s the type of card I like playing with.

      Duress is a little iffy, but it serves a purpose as it’s basically mono-black’s only way to deal with enchantments. It’s amusing to me how Duress and Ostracize switch places in a Pauper cube, in terms of how good they are, but Duress still serves a purpose, even if it’s less likely to hit.

      Ghostly flicker is bonkers, it’s a legitimate win condition with the Mnemonic Wall cards since you get it back when you blink the Wall and get to blink something else as well. Without those cards it would definitely be less good though.

      Temporal Spring is one of the ones I might take out in the future, but in the meantime it’s the closest thing to Vindicate in the cube (even if it’s in the wrong colors and not necessarily permanent without something like Ballustrade Spy or Doorkeeper).

      Anyway, my cube tends to reflect my preferences, and I tend to like combat!

      • coolcyclone2000 says:

        AWOL is fun, players always get a kick out of it when they see the Un-card in draft. As far as removal spells go, its on the chopping block since holding up 3 mana is sometimes expensive, and it doesn’t get utility guys (tappers, pingers, and such) since they’re usually not attacking. I’m all for the Un-cards as long as they don’t add subgames; things like the “Gotcha” mechanic might be cute at first, but it would get annoying to change the way you play. I used to have Double Header in (got replaced for Mist Raven) and am strongly considering adding Bad Ass.

        For the most part, I like the land-finity golems. Best case scenario, you have Razorfin, Spire, and Dross Golems come out on turn 3 if you have hit their respective basic lands turns 1-3. I like the vigilance on Razor Golem; it’s a keyword not many commons have in the cube. Spire Golem has overperformed and rightfully so; Azure Drake was often a first pick in M11 draft. Dross Golem might be the best of the bunch, since even paying the full retail of 5 mana, I’d be happy casting that evasive dude (HE’S COLORLESS!). Oxidda Golem has been bad, but then again I have a dislike for haste creatures as they typically have a low toughness. Tangle Golem has been meh, but he’s also been played the least. In theory, as one of the larger creatures in cube, he’s not bad if he hits the battlefield sooner via his cost reduction. I may cut the RG golems in the future if I’m looking for space in the artifacts section.

        Also, I wanted to mention that I have foil versions of Porcelain Legionnaire, Dismantling Blow, and Overgrown Battlement. I’d be glad to exchange them for stuff.

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  1. […] Barash explored how new sets can shake up an already well-defined limited format, as Jess Stirba wrote about her process and evaluation of her very own Pauper Cube. Matt Jones took a look at some […]

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