Cube Comparison (A Guest Post)
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest submission sent to me by Alex Ullman, fellow pauper cube builder and general lover of all things pauper. He shares a story about his pauper cube’s development culminating in a head-to-head against my own. I hope you enjoy the food for thought as much as I enjoyed seeing Alex’s very different pauper cube in person!]
This story begins a lot longer ago than I would like to admit.
First, here’s a brief history of me. My name is Alex (also known as @nerdtothecore on Twitter and SpikeBoyM on Magic Online) [Editor’s Note: as well as “Happy Birthday Alex Ullman“], and I play pauper. I got started during my Junior year of college, back when pauper was just a player run format, and have been slinging commons online ever since. Pauper is my competitive outlet that does not break my bank account.
Now, fast forward a few years. I started reading about cubes and roundabout ways to cube draft online (Create a list with every card assigned a random number and then draft in text via PMs …kludge-tastic), until PDCMagic created Draftling. That was awesome. The cube was loosely based on tribal synergy and multicolor. It was not great, but we had fun. About a year after this, I found a local game store. The problem was that no one was good at drafting. I decided to make a pauper cube to help teach the basics of drafting. The cube was loose; over 400 cards and mostly filled with my favorites, and not necessarily the best ones available. But we didn’t care as we were having fun.
Then, enter Seth Burn.
Seth is, and I mean this as affectionately as possible, a dinosaur (It’s okay; I’m one too). He’s been playing Magic for a long time, and had a pretty successful pro career. Have you heard of the Stupid Green Deck? If so, thank Seth. If not, know your history kids.
Seth and I met at a Worldwake Prerelease and started drafting regularly. Eventually we started to run Winston Draft with the cube and I won a lot at first, at least until Seth solved the format: Grixis. Time after time, Seth with go Grixis and I would be destroyed. Control was far too good. The cube was heavy with creatures with enter the battlefield effects that trumped plain old creatures. Most of green’s strength was in multicolored cards, which are hard to support in pauper cubes due to the relatively low quality of mana fixing. Green was great at being a supplement, but stunk as being the main attraction.
We dismantled the cube and it became obvious to Seth that green and white were just underpowered (green more so). He suggested allowing green to run some uncommons, but I was stubborn. Instead, we scaled back the power in other colors and pumped up green, and to a lesser extent white. This meant scaling back on the quality of removal (as there is so much good removal found at common) and weakening the power of blue’s creatures (because blue has been stupid good as a color for way too long).
After doing this, Seth took a scalpel to the multicolored section and trimmed a good amount of the fat. The reasoning behind this was that most of the cards we had were just bad, and our Cube just did not have space for bad cards.
Currently, I feel our cube is pretty darn balanced. Green is far better than it once was and the colors each have their own identity, something the cube I originally built lacked. We cut a significant number of cards and we are a far tighter cube than the old 400+ monstrosity (I think it topped out at 460 at some point).
Around the time that we were working on the cube, I started reading more cube articles. I found Thea Steele‘s, Usman Jamil‘s, and Adam’s writing to be incredibly helpful. I started pumping them for help on Twitter and other sites. This directly affected the steps we took to improve our cube. Perhaps the most interesting thing we found, however, was that Adam’s pauper cube started out with aggro being the dominant force, and he had to work to make control better. This stumped us. When the opportunity came to meet Adam, I had to take it…
But first, here’s a little about our pauper cube.
Size: 393 cards
- 58 cards of each color
- 8 of each allied pair (including Borderposts)
- 5 each enemy pair
- 1 for each shard
- 33 Colorless cards (including Zombie Cutthroat and Gathan Raiders)
- Multicolored applies to both hybrid and gold, and looks at the card’s optimal state (Agonizing Demise is a red-black card, for example).
White is the combat color. It wants to get into fights because it has creatures that do well in combat. The typical removal spells are present, as well as some ways to fight those spells (such as Cloudchaser Eagle). White has what may be the second best card in our cube in the form of Totem-Guide Hartebeest. When “Murder-Beest” gets going, it’s hard to stop. White also has quite a few tappers and can gum up boards rather quick. When white is the dominant color, it wants to play the aggressive game and is not as good as being the controlling color, but can do alright if pressed into service.
Blue is the color of doing stupid good things. With access to Mulldrifter and the lion’s share of card-draw, blue is built for the long game. However, most of blue’s creatures are fragile; unless you manage to get all the best options blue is not the best at beating down, but has the tools to help force through the beaters of other colors.
Black has some of the best small creatures, the majority of removal, and a good number of card-advantageous creatures. We cut some of the more back-breaking spells that aided control (Grim Harvest and Death Denied) and replaced them with similar spells and creatures (Morbid Plunder and Pit Keeper, for example). Black also has the “I hurt my controller” creatures and is also the color that best rewards a commitment, with multiple Shades and Tendrils of Corruption.
Unlike other cubes, we have moved away from cheap red creatures. Instead, red is the color of “giants” (5-drops). While red does have access to a number of good small creatures, it has the class of five drops that actually impact the board. This compliments the removal package, which is great at taking out small creatures, by allowing “the Mountain bunch” the ability the pick off smaller blockers, tromping over with the 4 power brigade. We are not set on keeping this character for red, but for now, we like how it plays.
Green has some of the best creatures and great answers to flying. The majority of ramp and color fixing is in the color, making it a must have for any deck above three colors (obvious, I know). Green’s creatures are also the hardest to deal with and are the most likely to do damage, thanks to trample. Most of the card advantage here is tied up in land fetching and selection, but this leads to incredibly consistent decks, or decks that can pump out multiple threats, which help green fight against the other colors.
Multicolor and Colorless
Not much to say here. We have an emphasis on equipment in colorless, and the two “free” morphs (Zombie Cutthroat and Gathan Raiders) both count as colorless. Multicolor cards try to fit the identity of all colors involved, and some do a better job than others.
Meeting of the Cubes
I work in the Student Affairs field, and one of my major conferences was taking place in Baltimore. I knew from Twitter that Adam lived relatively close by (in the same state that is). We took this as an opportunity to meet up. Let me just say that Adam is awesome, and I am grateful for his hospitality (and also for the opportunity to talk cube face-to-face).
After looking at the cubes side-by-side I can say I began to understand the differences between them.
Adam’s cube is focused on combat. His creatures want to attack and block. Yes, his cube has a large number of card advantage creatures as well, but he has creatures that are really good at attacking and blocking. When rebuilding our cube, Seth tried to weed those creatures out (much like Magic has been doing over the past few years). Our creatures have to do something special to “just attack” and that usually means evasion (again, one of the reasons that the Green anti-flying measures are so good).
Whereas Adam’s cube is designed for blitzing speed (from my glances at his list and at the actual cards), our cube was built to create interesting game states. We have purposely selected slower creatures and an increased number of morphs to make combat exciting. Additionally, we have left out a large number of “protection” creatures to help foster interaction. I know Adam is a fan of such creatures, including Guardian of the Guildpact. And to think, we did it all with just commons.
Our cube has come a long way, but there is still work to be done. The best part is, that no matter what we do, our cube will always be pauper, but that does not mean it has to be any one way, as the comparison of our cube to Adam’s shows.
Thanks to Adam for letting me write this piece.
– Alex Ullman
Bonus Editor’s Section: Alex’s Cube
Alex also happened to attach the latest version of his pauper cube when he submitted this guest post. You can download it here, and be sure to reach out to him on Twitter if you have questions or would like a more recently updated cube spreadsheet from him!