A Common Draft

Posted in Serious Fun on March 27, 2012

I've made the confession before but it bears repeating: I love commons. I don't mean that I simply hold a higher appreciation for the fundamental building blocks of Limited or just fondly recall the most-often-encountered card rarity throughout the history of Magic.

I mean full-on obsession that borders on unhealthy. For example, the cards I'm most curious about in the upcoming Avacyn Restored set are, in order:

  1. Commons that are immediately and obviously powerful in Limited.
  2. Commons that are intriguing, carrying Limited power that isn't as obvious.
  3. Commons that, in certain situations, are surprisingly powerful.
  4. Commons that look sweet in their premium versions.
  5. Cards I want to try in Commander.

(And thanks to the plethora of stores nearby I'm still trying to figure out which one I'm going to preregister at!) The next set is still weeks away from previews, yet I can't help but wonder what new cards I'm going to love.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Part of the reason I'm so keen to see the newest common wares is that I've been playing and updating a Pauper Cube for almost three years. What is a Cube? Well, from the Magic Online Cube announcement:

"Cube" is a format where players draft from a pool of cards that's specially chosen to be awesome to draft.

That's about as succinct a summary as I can envision. However, there's a little more to the rules than that:

  • Cubes are singleton, and only one copy of any card appears in the Cube. This means that...
  • Each and every "pack" is created manually from randomizing the entire Cube, then doling out fourteen-card piles, and...
  • Every card in every pack is unique.

What makes Cube so much fun, however, isn't the combination of the high level of randomness (you don't have the chance to pick up the same card multiple times) but the general power of the cards you're choosing from (such as seeing Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Survival of the Fittest; and Sword of Fire and Iceall in the same pack).

A Pauper Cube changes this equation slightly. Gone are almost all of the most powerful cards in Magic, as "pauper" means "all-commons;" a "Pauper Cube" means drafting nothing but commons. Obviously, I'm going to find this pretty exciting, which was one of the primary drivers in getting me to start mine so long ago.

What's it look like? I'm glad you asked.

Oh, a list. We have that, and a spreadsheet too.

Razor GolemArtifact CreatureNeurok StealthsuitArtifact
Amrou SeekersCreatureSpire GolemArtifact Creature
Apex HawksCreatureTrespassing SouleaterArtifact Creature
Aven RiftwatcherCreatureÆther AdeptCreature
Benalish KnightCreatureÆthersnipeCreature
Blade of the Sixth PrideCreatureCalcite SnapperCreature
Gideon's LawkeeperCreatureCarnivorous Death-ParrotCreature
Goldmeadow HarrierCreatureChasm DrakeCreature
Guardian of the GuildpactCreatureErrant EphemeronCreature
Icatian JavelineersCreatureFathom SeerCreature
Kabuto MothCreatureGiant TortoiseCreature
Kami of Ancient LawCreatureHalimar WavewatchCreature
Kor HookmasterCreatureMakeshift MaulerCreature
Kor SanctifiersCreatureMan-o'-WarCreature
Kor SkyfisherCreatureMnemonic WallCreature
Leonin SkyhunterCreatureMulldrifterCreature
Lone MissionaryCreatureNinja of the Deep HoursCreature
Loyal CatharCreaturePestermiteCreature
Order of LeitburCreaturePhantasmal BearCreature
Phantom NomadCreatureRishadan AirshipCreature
Plover KnightsCreatureScroll ThiefCreature
Porcelain LegionnaireCreatureSea Gate OracleCreature
Ronom UnicornCreatureShaper ParasiteCreature
Shu CavalryCreatureShimmering GlasskiteCreature
Silverclaw GriffinCreatureSkywinder DrakeCreature
Soltari LancerCreatureSpined ThopterCreature
Soltari TrooperCreatureSpire MonitorCreature
Soltari VisionaryCreatureStitched DrakeCreature
Steppe LynxCreatureStormbound GeistCreature
Stormfront PegasusCreatureWaterfront BouncerCreature
Temple AcolyteCreatureWormfang DrakeCreature
Thraben SentryCreatureClaustrophobiaEnchantment
Totem-Guide HartebeestCreatureNarcolepsyEnchantment
Whitemane LionCreatureBone to AshInstant
Bonds of FaithEnchantmentBrainstormInstant
Cage of HandsEnchantmentCapsizeInstant
Faith's FettersEnchantmentCondescendInstant
Journey to NowhereEnchantmentCounterspellInstant
Kirtar's DesireEnchantmentDazeInstant
Oblivion RingEnchantmentExcludeInstant
PacifismEnchantmentForce SpikeInstant
Temporal IsolationEnchantmentFrantic SearchInstant
Apostle's BlessingInstantFrost BreathInstant
Blinding BeamInstantInto the RoilInstant
Mana TitheInstantMana LeakInstant
Prismatic StrandsInstantMiscalculationInstant
Raise the AlarmInstantRay of CommandInstant
ShelterInstantRemove SoulInstant
Stave OffInstantRepulseInstant
Breath of LifeSorceryRushing RiverInstant
False DefeatSorceryCompulsive ResearchSorcery
Gather the TownsfolkSorceryDeep AnalysisSorcery
Dross GolemArtifact CreatureOxidda GolemArtifact Creature
Moriok ReplicaArtifact CreatureVulshok ReplicaArtifact Creature
Pith DrillerArtifact CreatureBlood OgreCreature
Vault SkirgeArtifact CreatureCrossway VampireCreature
Blind CreeperCreatureFault RidersCreature
Blind ZealotCreatureFireslingerCreature
Cadaver ImpCreatureFlameborn HellionCreature
CarnophageCreatureGathan RaidersCreature
Crypt RatsCreatureGerrard's IrregularsCreature
Dauthi HorrorCreatureGhitu SlingerCreature
Dauthi MarauderCreatureGoblin ShortcutterCreature
Dauthi SlayerCreatureGorehorn MinotaursCreature
Faceless ButcherCreatureHearth KamiCreature
Fume SpitterCreatureHinterland Hermit //
Hinterland Scourge
GravediggerCreatureHissing IguanarCreature
Highborn GhoulCreatureIngot ChewerCreature
Liliana's SpecterCreatureInner-Flame AcolyteCreature
Mortis DogsCreatureKeldon MaraudersCreature
Nezumi CutthroatCreatureMogg FanaticCreature
Okiba-Gang ShinobiCreatureMogg War MarshalCreature
Order of the Ebon HandCreatureNearheath StalkerCreature
Phyrexian RagerCreaturePitchburn DevilsCreature
Pit KeeperCreaturePlated GeopedeCreature
SkinthinnerCreaturePouncing KavuCreature
Vampire InterloperCreatureRonin HoundmasterCreature
Vampire LaceratorCreatureSkirk MarauderCreature
Warren PilferersCreatureSkirk ShamanCreature
Wei Strike ForceCreatureSlash PantherCreature
Wretched AnuridCreatureSparksmithCreature
Zombie CutthroatCreatureSuq'Ata LancerCreature
Corrupted ZendikonEnchantmentTorch FiendCreature
Dead WeightEnchantmentVulshok SorcererCreature
PestilenceEnchantmentBarbed LightningInstant
Death DeniedInstantBrimstone VolleyInstant
Diabolic EdictInstantBrute ForceInstant
DisfigureInstantBurst LightningInstant
Doom BladeInstantFireblastInstant
Grasp of DarknessInstantIncinerateInstant
Grim HarvestInstantLash OutInstant
Last GaspInstantLightning BoltInstant
Nameless InversionInstantSearing BlazeInstant
Rend FleshInstantStaggershockInstant
Snuff OutInstantAct of TreasonSorcery
Tragic SlipInstantArc LightningSorcery
Undying EvilInstantChain LightningSorcery
VendettaInstantFire AmbushSorcery
Victim of NightInstantFireballSorcery
Ashes to AshesSorceryFireboltSorcery
Crippling FatigueSorceryFlame SlashSorcery
Disturbed BurialSorceryPyrotechnicsSorcery
DuressSorceryReckless ChargeSorcery
Evincar's JusticeSorceryRolling ThunderSorcery
Hymn to TourachSorceryRuthless InvasionSorcery
Sign in BloodSorceryTraitorous BloodSorcery
UnearthSorceryVolcanic HammerSorcery
Sylvok ReplicaArtifact CreatureAssault ZeppelidCreature
Tangle GolemArtifact CreatureBlind HunterCreature
Thundering TanadonArtifact CreatureCultbrand CinderCreature
Aerie OuphesCreatureDeft DuelistCreature
Ambush ViperCreatureEsper CormorantsCreature
Basking RootwallaCreatureGoblin LegionnaireCreature
BlastodermCreatureGravelgill AxesharkCreature
Borderland RangerCreatureHenchfiend of UkorCreature
Civic WayfinderCreatureIzzet ChronarchCreature
Dawntreader ElkCreatureKird ApeCreature
Festerhide BoarCreatureNightscape FamiliarCreature
Fyndhorn ElvesCreatureNoggle BanditCreature
Garruk's CompanionCreaturePutrid LeechCreature
Jungle LionCreatureQasali PridemageCreature
Kozilek's PredatorCreatureRendclaw TrowCreature
Krosan TuskerCreatureRhox BruteCreature
Llanowar ElvesCreatureSafehold EliteCreature
Maul SplicerCreatureScuzzback MaraudersCreature
Mire BoaCreatureShrieking GrotesqueCreature
Nantuko VigilanteCreatureSigiled BehemothCreature
Nessian CourserCreatureSkyknight LegionnaireCreature
Nest InvaderCreatureStormscape ApprenticeCreature
Penumbra SpiderCreatureTin Street HooliganCreature
Phantom TigerCreatureWild NacatlCreature
River BoaCreatureArmadillo CloakEnchantment
Sakura-Tribe ElderCreatureCrystallizationEnchantment
Simian GruntsCreatureCurse of ChainsEnchantment
Stampeding RhinoCreaturePillory of the SleeplessEnchantment
Thornweald ArcherCreatureSangrite BacklashEnchantment
Ulvenwald BearCreatureAgony WarpInstant
Viridian EmissaryCreatureBranching BoltInstant
Wickerbough ElderCreatureConsume StrengthInstant
Wild MongrelCreatureFeeling of DreadInstant
Yavimaya ElderCreatureForbidden AlchemyInstant
Young WolfCreatureJiltInstant
Arachnus WebEnchantmentMystical TeachingsInstant
RancorEnchantmentOrim's ThunderInstant
Crushing VinesInstantSnakeformInstant
Edge of AutumnInstantSoul ManipulationInstant
Elephant AmbushInstantTerminateInstant
Evolution CharmInstantWrecking BallInstant
Giant GrowthInstantBlightningSorcery
HarrowInstantTemporal SpringSorcery
Hunger of the HowlpackInstantTravel PreparationsSorcery
Sprout SwarmInstantColorless
Vines of VastwoodInstant
WildsizeInstantUlamog's CrusherCreature
Kodama's ReachSorcery
Land Aid '04SorceryAdventuring GearArtifact
Prey UponSorceryArmillary SphereArtifact
Rampant GrowthSorceryBonesplitterArtifact
Executioner's HoodArtifact
LandFieldmist BorderpostArtifact
Firewild BorderpostArtifact
Azorius ChanceryLandFlayer HuskArtifact
Barren MoorLandLeonin BolaArtifact
DesertLandLeonin ScimitarArtifact
Dimir AqueductLandMind StoneArtifact
Drifting MeadowLandMistvein BorderpostArtifact
Evolving WildsLandPristine TalismanArtifact
Golgari Rot FarmLandProphetic PrismArtifact
Halimar DepthsLandSerrated ArrowsArtifact
Haunted FengrafLandStrider HarnessArtifact
Izzet BoilerworksLandSylvok LifestaffArtifact
Khalni GardenLandTumble MagnetArtifact
Polluted MireLandVeinfire BorderpostArtifact
Remote IsleLandVulshok MorningstarArtifact
Rupture SpireLandWayfarer's BaubleArtifact
Sejiri SteppeLandWhispersilk CloakArtifact
Simic Growth ChamberLandWildfield BorderpostArtifact
Slippery KarstLandClay StatueArtifact Creature
Smoldering CraterLandPaper TigerArtifact Creature
Teetering PeaksLandPerilous MyrArtifact Creature
Terramorphic ExpanseLandPilgrim's EyeArtifact Creature
Rock LobsterArtifact Creature
Scissors LizardArtifact Creature
Yotian SoldierArtifact Creature

So how did this come about? What process created that set of cards? Why is {insert your specific card of choice} in the Cube? Those answers, and the detailed stories they carry, is something you can get from meeting me personally. How one goes about creating a Cube in general might be a future feature or Latest Developments article (or two), but I'm the wrong person to ask about that as well. At the very least, I'll leave discussing set development here to the people who actually get to do that all day. I hear they're pretty good at it.

What I can share is a glimpse into how awesome it is to get to Cube. You didn't think I'd share the most prized portion of my collection without tales of battle to go along?

    Standard Practices

On a recent adventure down to Grand Prix Indianapolis, I had a chance to pull together a small team of Cube devotees for some after-hours Draft action. That's one of the greatest features of traveling to Magic events: Once the site shuts down you can just carry on as before in your hotel's lobby, open conference room, or flat surface with chair-like objects nearby.

Gamers 'gonna game!

Adam is a regular feature at Grand Prix, usually slinging witty banter behind the Jupiter Games sales booth. We've shared a few stories—on and off tournament sites—and were overdue for drafting my Cube.

Rich speaks a lot less than Adam, but arguably says a lot more through the weekly GatheringMagic.com video series Inside the Deck. Usually hopping about the tournament site all day filming, Rich relished the rare treat of getting some games in over a working weekend. His smile proved it!

If you wanted to check in with a community leader about Cubes, Usman is one place to start. He writes regularly about Cubes for StarCityGames.com and has spent time honing his craft on other sites, blogs, and a Cube-focused podcast. We've certainly discussed many cards over the years, and his insight and excitement has only increased since we first crossed paths.

TJ was a new friend I met through Usman at the Grand Prix. Hanging out for dinner and joining in the "Let's Cube!" ride was a no-brainer, and I was excited to share my Cube with someone completely uninitiated to its all-common premise!

Jeff was TJ's friend, but showed up as most of us were already dueling after the draft. How can that happen? He was busy battling hard to try to make the Day-Two cutoff, but fell short in the very last round.

Oh, how did he show up late but still get to play? That's easy: Sealed. Both Jeff and Adam came a little later than intended, but handing them each a pile of six boosters worked out as well as jumping in a small Draft. While players with Sealed pools lose the ability to sculpt their decks through choosing cards, they are able to change to a completely new deck on the fly. I'm not sure which is more valuable given the generally flat power level among random cards in my Cube.

Speaking of the draft, you can deduce there were just four of us. We drafted four packs of just eleven cards each to minimize how many times we'd see the same cards float around the table. It's a useful workaround when you happen to be a few players short of the usual eight.

This was how my draft shook out:

Pack 1Pack 2Pack 3Pack 4
1Sylvok LifestaffThundering TanadonSuq'Ata LancerDeath Denied
2Fire AmbushGorehorn MinotaursHissing IguanarFume Spitter
3Nameless InversionHighborn GhoulFlayer HuskSkinthinner
4Ambush ViperSkirk ShamanFaceless ButcherBlind Creeper
5Crippling FatigueVolcanic HammerVampire InterloperBlood Ogre
6SparksmithSimian GruntsDisfigureTraitorous Blood
7Pith DrillerWrecking BallCarnophageGravelgill Axeshark
8Sign in BloodSangrite BacklashCadaver ImpUndying Evil
9Consume StrengthViridian EmissaryDiabolic EdictPitchburn Devils
10Bone to AshSnakeformMomentary BlinkProbe
11ReclaimNightscape FamiliarEvolution CharmEvincar's Justice

With only four of us drafting, strained colors quickly became clear. At first, red and black were getting pulled quickly, and I thought green would jump up as a primary color for me. However, the third and fourth packs completely shifted the dynamic back to red and black. In particular, I was able to first-pick a card that has consistently proven to be incredible (Death Denied) and wheeled another incredible card (Blood Ogre) back around. I was also able to correctly pick Gravelgill Axeshark and force Evincar's Justice to wheel as well. I never did figure out who jumped out of black, but I suspect it had to do with how hard I cut it in the third pack.

Here's the basic deck I constructed, but I made many modifications on the go depending upon what I was fighting or if I was going first or second after playing a game.

Adam's Black-Red Pauper Cube Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Some of the cards that popped in an out included Fire Ambush, Pith Driller, Traitorous Blood, Evincar's Justice, and Thundering Tanadon, among others. Generally speaking, there's a little more room to try things in Cube decks, since every card is usually powerful in its own right (at least in my Cube).

    Round 1: Usman

Of course, given the entirely random selection process of "Usman and I were done first," it was clear I'd have to battle my buddy. Our first game was a fairly boring affair:

I didn't take a single point of damage. Obviously, this meant my deck was far superior, right?

Our second game was quite the opposite. For every two creatures I played, he had something that killed them. Staggershock killed my Skinthinner and Sparksmith. Branching Bolt nailed Vampire Interloper and Blind Creeper.

He even used Pyrotechnics to sweep my board and ping me at the same time! When he produced Ulamog's Crusher (immediately after I used my freshly swapped-in Traitorous Blood), I could do nothing but take the hit before using Diabolic Edict to clear it away. The final nail in the coffin came in the form of an Elephant Ambush eating my Skirk Shaman attacker, leaving me defenseless against the strike-back.

The third game was somewhat similar. While I had a fast start of a Blind Creeper into Hissing Iguanar, Usman used a kicked Jilt to set me way back.

His follow ups in Man-o'-War and Festerhide Boar, after evoking Ingot Chewer, made things worse. My Wrecking Ball took care of the Boar, and I got back into the swing of things with Hissing Iguanar and Vampire Interloper, which I saved from a Brimstone Volley with Undying Evil!

In addition to Pyrotechnics, I then discovered Usman had Arc Lightning. While the Blood Ogre and Skinthinner (morphed) might have done the trick, Usman had all the removal, with a Branching Bolt for Skinthinner before I could lay waste to his Rhox Brute. By drawing land over the next two turns I fell to the Rhino.

I should note that Usman and I have a history when battling with my Cube. We're about even in total matches and games, and we've almost always had very similar battles of battlefield management and removal mitigation. And we always have new thoughts about cards we saw in action. Usman wasn't sold on Undying Evil until he saw how much work it could do in a hyper-aggressive deck like mine.

It's always great to play some games and end on awesome conversation.

    Round 2: TJ

TJ was the last to arrive so I kindly bowed out to wait for him while others continued to fight. He was impressed with the potential of his pool—loaded with blue and white spells he liked—and didn't take long to assemble a deck that seemed like my nightmare: flying creatures, tempo cards, and life gain.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Our first game was a very fast run-down for life totals. A Sylvok Lifestaff compounded the damage a Suq'Ata Lancer and Blood Ogre drove home as I had a removal spell for every creature TJ played. Even though he dropped a Pristine Talisman into play—oh how I wished I had a Torch Fiend!—I was able to race him to 3 life and finish the job with Volcanic Hammer.

The second game lasted a bit longer. He opened on Goldmeadow Harrier again, and had Gideon's Lawkeeper to follow, but I threw all my removal at his tappers only to be rewarded with him playing Waterfront Bouncer and a Wormfang Drake (upgrading his Spined Thopter).

Thanks to a Skirk Shaman, saved again with Undying Evil, I was able to keep the pressure on with a 5/5 Gorehorn Minotaurs and 3/3 Blood Ogre. Even with some bouncing shenanigans, a timely Sylvok Lifestaff joined the battlefield to demolish his life total down to 1.

While his Kor Hookmaster and Kor Skyfisher helped hold back my horde for another turn, adding a Gravelgill Axeshark let me push right through his defenses.

We talked for a little after the games, and even played a third for fun since ours ended quickly (he won that one). Feeling of Dread was a critical card that showed up for him in the third game, and it was clear that in any game where he bought more time to set up I would have been hard-pressed to fight through. All said, he thought it was a blast.

    Round 3: Sleep

The "danger" of playing Magic after the Grand Prix closes for the day is staying up too late. With everyone looking to be back on site fairly early, and time having already blown past midnight, the group decided to pack it up. We didn't look at final records or declare winners; we were just happy to have played some awesome games, using somewhat unlikely cards, among several friendly faces.

If you've put together a Horde, a Cube, a Stack, or something else that's group-oriented and fun, find the next Grand Prix you can attend. I promise it's a good time ahead of you.

For group-oriented fun on the Internet, I have the results of last week's lord poll:

Which tribal deck with modern lords should Adam take to game?
Skeletons (Death Baron)111025.6%
Allies (Kazuul Warlord, Kabira Evangel)92321.3%
Werewolves and Wolves (Immerwolf, Mayor of Avabruck)84619.5%
Spirits (Drogskol Captain, Celestial Crusader)81118.7%
Elves (Elvish Archdruid; Joraga Warcaller; Ezuri, Renegade Leader)64514.9%

As I had hoped, Skeletons easily cleared the top spot, although my favorite five-color tribe was right behind them. Even better, I received some very cool suggestions for the Skeleton deck specifically. The next time there's a chance to look over some sixty-card piles, you'll have a chance to share if you think the suggestions should be implemented!

This week, I'd like to ask something completely unrelated to today's topic.

How often, on average, do you visit a local game store to play non-competitive Magic?NeverLess than once each monthOnce or twice a monthOnce or twice a week

I visit my local shop, Dream Wizards, about once a week. Thursdays is specifically set aside for everyone to just join in and play whatever kind of Magic they'd like, but even during the peak of Friday Night Magic you can get in on a Commander game with ease. Sometimes I'll miss a week, but that's because I'm generally gallivanting about at a Grand Prix or Prerelease instead.

I hope you can appreciate how much Magic there can be if you can find it. Join us next week when I ask a few questions and share some far better answers!

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