Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the Spotlight Cube Series. This is a cube that I've been excited about for a long time. Before I was even working at Wizards, I was a Level 2 judge on the East Coast and even occasionally worked events at the same store where Adam talks about playing. While there, I heard whispers of a cube he'd made, but for one reason or another, I was never able to actually play it. Years went by, and I never got a chance. I was always running an event or exhausted from running an event. Never worked out. But now we've all got that chance.
That would be enough, but that's not the only reason. We've got the Professor from Tolarian Community College introducing the cube, because we all know how passionate he is about Pauper. (Turns out he enjoys Cube, too!) Take a look at his video here! After discussing with him, we're adding one of his favorite cards to the prize pool for the Cube Draft League: all undefeated players are not only going to get their trophy but also a copy of Pauper staple Thorn of the Black Rose!
And because this is a bit of a special occasion, while Pauper Cube is live, we've also got a promo code for everyone: just enter "PauperCube2020" into the MTGO Store's code redemption field to add a Standard Bearer to your account. Even free accounts can get in on this promotion!
So, there's a bonus card in the prize pool, a promo for everyone, and a sweet new cube from Adam Styborski. This is the best kind of week. See you all in the queue!
Digital Product Manager, Magic Online
Hello, I'm Adam "Stybs" Styborski (@the_stybs). You might remember me from such articles as "a few years of the Serious Fun" column or "the entire run of Command Tower" or, more recently, "articles about Magic esports over on Magic.gg" since I've joined the #WOTCStaff team. As a member of the Commander Advisory Group (CAG) and Magic esports content and coverage teams, I spend a lot of time watching and playing amazing games of Magic.
But one Magic passion I also enjoyed over the past 10 years was maintaining a "Pauper" cube. While I handed the reins off to a great team and 1,000-plus member community Discord, my excitement for new commons hasn't diminished in the least. When friend and all-around awesome person Alli Steele on the Magic Online team approached me with the idea of bringing Pauper Cube online as part of the Spotlight Cube Series, it was an emphatic "Yes!" from me.
Pauper Cube: A History
The history of the Pauper Cube starts over 10 years ago. At the time my local game store—Dream Wizards in Rockville, MD—was host to two other outstanding cubes: a powered (or unpowered—history is vague here) cube packed with rares, and a common and uncommon "C/Ube" maintained by Eric Klug. As a fan of multicolor and looking to build something unique from the other cubes on hand, I tried to build a "Pauper multicolor" cube.
Since this was around the time of Shards of Alara block in 2008–2009 before we went back to Ravnica—twice—it wasn't a successful enterprise. However, Eric kindly took me under his wing and walked through rebuilding the cube—cutting multicolor, focusing on curves by color, identifying archetypes—from the ground up with the piles of commons I had. The result was a smaller, more streamlined cube that was easy to understand for new Magic players but packed surprising depth and play sequences that delighted experienced drafters.
Over the years, many cards joined and left the cube, the history of which goes all the way back through Mirrodin Besieged in the change log maintained online. But two truths were always held:
- Keep the cube small, around 400 or so cards. (409 was the number for a long time.)
- Stay laser-focused on two-color archetypes. (Every pair has something it does.)
Bringing the cube to Magic Online meant that one of these would be broken, and what you'll experience once you can begin drafting it isn't going to be the same as if you built it in person. It's closer to a 540-card list of the "greatest hits" of the cube from over the years.
Plus, I needed to provide a list for the cube before the Theros Beyond Death update was provided, so it's definitely a little different if you've been keeping up to date already.
Every archetype should feel familiar if you've played Magic long enough—after all, a cube built from commons is built using those bread-and-butter Limited staples you've used dozens of times drafting each set! But taking an eye to ensure there's synergy between their chosen colors and strategies is something any cube designer should do.
White-Blue decks can play out in a number of ways but will always be best focused on enters-the-battlefield creatures providing value, then backing them up with bounce spells, protection tricks, and counterspells. Kor Skyfisher is a meme within the community and led to "flicker" effects like Ghostly Flicker being added, so have fun drawing cards as many times as possible off Mulldrifter!
No format would be complete without a control archetype, and blue-black is the classic combination. Pestilence and Evincar's Justice are two of the few sweeper effects that can wipe out small creatures, but chaining removal spells and card draw effects also gets the job done. Naiad of Hidden Coves is a nice touch from Theros Beyond Death to make it easier to play all those spells on your opponent's turns and provides a sturdy 3 toughness against tokens.
Token-making effects are plentiful in every color except blue, but black-red makes the most of it. Aggressive removal and burn spells (Lightning Bolt and Doom Blade are commons) may be iconic, but pushing damage through with Hissing Iguanar or Raid Bombardment and a pile of Goblin and Zombie tokens is great too.
If going wide with tokens and having the option to go tall with larger creatures suits your style, red-green has plenty to work with. Saprolings and Goblins are plentiful and can accelerate out faster than any other colors with Burning-Tree Emissary leading the way. With Wildfire Elemental or Trumpet Blast to work with, you can set up truly monstrous combat steps.
Green-white is Selesnya territory, and tokens abound here too. Building up a wide army that makes Scion of the Wild proud then pushing in attacks with tricks like Sigil Blessing is a one-two punch any Selesnya fan can appreciate. Overrun isn't a common, but Battle Screech certainly is.
While "enchantment control" isn't quite fair because there aren't many ways to search up or recover Auras, the density of Pacifism effects and other hard removal spells in white-black is quite high. Pestilence will still be an all-star for you, but Pillory of the Sleepless and Kingpin's Pet will let you pinprick opponents to death while you deal with their threats.
While black matched with any of the non-blue colors allows sacrifice effects to succeed, black-green perhaps does it in the most iconic of ways. Bigger creatures, recursion like Morgue Theft and Disturbed Burial, and plenty of grindy value mean you can run the midrange deck of your (all-common) dreams.
Green gets most ramp effects for itself—and is why things like Boros Signet and Dimir Aqueduct aren't in the cube—but green-blue gets the best of both colors' worlds. Big flying creatures like Wretched Gryff or the monstrous Ulamog's Crusher are the top-end of win conditions around, but flexible spells like Æthersnipe can give you time to get there and help you win. (Also, it's obviously the best Capsize deck.)
If Goblin Electromancer is part of your Storm decks, you'll understand the power of spell-casting value. While the blue package of fliers and red package of burn spells will help get the job done, rebuying the best with Mnemonic Wall and ensuring you maximize two-for-ones like Jilt will keep you ahead of opponents each step of the way.
While tokens are certainly part of red-white decks—Borrowed Grace and Trumpet Blast make 15–16-land token aggro decks more than just viable—it's the combination of haste and the most efficient one- and two-drops in the cube that gives you the edge. Doomed Traveler, Faerie Guidemother, and Jackal Pup punch far above their one-drop class in the right spots.
The Next Level
Don't let a clear focus on two-color decks deter you from exploring what's possible. Over the years, there's been just about every kind of deck you can imagine.
Three-color decks will typically lean into the green ramp spells that can get lands other than Forests (see Harrow and Farseek) or build control together from stronger two-for-one spells in Esper, Grixis, or Sultai colors. The clever ways Cavern Harpy and Nightscape Familiar can take over a game from a three-color deck shouldn't be ignored, but drafting too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped (see Rakdos Guildgate, Foul Orchard, and friends) will leave you vulnerable to aggressive decks.
Of course, monocolor decks can shine too. Guardian of the Guildpact may as well read "protection from most of the cube," making it one of the best "pack one, pick one" choices you can make. Lightning Bolt and its milieu of variants are here, ready to make a burn deck come to life. Ghostly Flicker can combine with Mnemonic Wall to create value loops with things like Mulldrifter or Man-'o-War—assuming you get the time to set one up.
And for drafters hungry to tread new ground, some cleverly powerful commons are also included, which should give players plenty of ways to stretch and flex with unbelievable decks just like with cubes that use higher-rarity cards.
What Isn't Here
If you're a fan of the Pauper cube already, you'll notice there's a few friendly faces missing from the complete list.
Un- cards of all stripes aren't on Magic Online, so that flavor of fun isn't here. Particularly, the silver-bordered cards in the cube all support archetypes well and were not all equally replaceable. When you're down to just commons, you grab every ounce of power you can get, and only a monster would tell you that they don't like Squirrels!
Similarly, some of the multiplayer Draft sets—Conspiracy, Battlebond, and others—aren't totally available on Magic Online either. Cogwork Librarian is my favorite of the "draft matters" effects and is a great reason to draft Conspiracy if you get the chance to, but that will be a physical Draft experience with friends.
Likewise, cards banned in the Pauper Constructed format—namely Treasure Cruise—aren't here either. While Treasure Cruise is just moderately strong in a typical draft, reducing confusion between Pauper Constructed fans and fans of Pauper Cube was something Alli and I worked to reduce. It also means a few Pauper all-stars like Delver of Secrets, Stonehorn Dignitary, Stormbound Geist, and Lone Missionary were added as a nod to the Constructed format.
Replicating what Tron, Affinity, or Elves do wasn't possible, but some of your favorite interactions and staples will be ready for you to use in new ways.
One of the decisions that went into the cube years ago was a move away from "best in your sideboard" cards. While having a Disenchant effect for when your opponent gets Pestilence going, or a Shatter option to side in against a Bonesplitter, seems great because the power level across commons is somewhat flat, the choice was made to focus on every card in the cube being a card that can reasonably be put into your main deck. You'll find you draft a "playable" deck easier and earlier than other Draft formats, letting you instead focus on choosing cards that best synergize or improve what you want to do with your deck already.
As VP of R&D Aaron Forsythe once said, "This is just all the cards we shouldn't have printed at common." You'll find powerful choices deep into every pack, and it's really up to reading the table to see how you want to handle things.
Get Ready to Play
There is plenty to explore and try with the cube, and I'm excited to see how far it will be pushed by the biggest audience it has ever had. I look forward to seeing the ups and downs of your all-common experience, and I'll be sure to take trips through the queues and try a hand at playing my cube in a way I had never dreamed possible!