The Horrors of the Innistrad Update
It’s no secret that Innistrad is loaded with pauper cube goodness. The combination of readers like you clamoring for this update breakdown, diversity and relative power among many of the commons, and incredible Limited environment that allows so many different angles of attack to shine have all coalesced into the perfect storm.
Innistrad is freaking awesome.
This update was one of the largest updates yet (19 cards from the new set), and many of the changes were a challenging decision to grapple. My sincere thanks go to Usman Jamil and Alex Ullman for helping shape my overall goals, with additional props to Sam Stoddard and Eric Klug for feedback on the fly as decisions were made.
The usual documentation, and cheat sheet, are here:
If you’re ready, let’s rock some horror!
Judge Unworthy has been trickling out of other cubes for some time, and it’s time has come for mine. I already discussed Bonds of Faith at length so I’ll spare that discussion here, but I will say that I am not exciting to continue etching away at the last bits of instant speed removal in white. I love Totem-Guide Hartebeest, but White needs more variety than just anti-creature Auras.
When I first saw Thraben Sentry I knew I wanted to give it a try. Assault Griffin is fairly average evasion in a color filled with evasive bodies. I’m not sure how Thraben Sentry will work out, but I’m optimistic that it will create interesting decisions and enhance the value of cards like Goblin Legionnaire, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Mogg Fanatic.
I had high hopes for Stonehorn Dignitary when I added it in the last update. While he’s certainly blanked many powerful combat steps, and made at least one Blastoderm slightly more manageable, four mana has just felt like too much far too often.
Village Bell-Ringer has been a pleasant treat to play with, allowing both the instant speed block and battlefield untap to multi-block blow out your opponent. The card also features a man ringing a bell, so there’s that.
Blue is the weakest color for creatures, followed closely by black and red. However, blue is also the weakest for direct removal, completely opposite of black and red. Essence Scatter is a fine piece of “removal” but it’s also extremely conditional. Claustrophobia handles the far-more-often case where something already made it to the battlefield.
This change breaks my heart. I really love Cloud Spirit and the two cousins it inspired. But a 3/4 with flying that can block anything is a deal when it costs just about the same as our venerable 3/1.
The point I’d like to slip in here is that Stitched Drake could also be considered to replace Wormfang Drake, as that comes with the not-so-inconsequential risk of being a two-for-one with a crafty opponent and instant speed removal. However, Wormfang is also incredibly powerful when it isn’t a blowout which is far more often the case. Both Wormfang and Stitched have conditional requirements on casting, but both absolutely destroy other creatures at the same casting cost.
What I’m trying to say is that Stitched Drake is the new Skywinder Drake: give me more variants!
Blue doesn’t usually get respectable bodies on the curve. A 4/5 ground-pounder is nothing to sneeze at, and will certainly find more use regaining control of a game than a fragile 3/1 with flying that makes you want to sacrifice it. It also feels nice to get some use out of a body you chump blocked with earlier.
However, I do enjoy it when Act of Treason and other steal effects get into the card drawing game. I am sad to see the unique effect of the Shrike disappear, but blue benefits greatly from the Mauler.
This is a pretty straightforward upgrade: a conditional 4/2 is less sexy than a flying 2/1. It’s important to note that blue and white have plenty of flying creatures to block an interloping vampire; flying is far less effective than fear, intimidate, or shadow in black, and I anticipate that our Interloper will be blocked a little more often than may appear at first glance.
Geth’s Verdict was often dead weight in games. This change is as poetic as it’s pleasing.
“Edict” effects (a player must sacrifice a creature) play well when boards are clear, decks are relying on getting the next best guy in play first, and only winning with a bomb or two. The pauper cube doesn’t play out that way, and instead most boards end up with a few stray creatures that can afford to be pitched. It isn’t that targeted removal is always better, but that this cube environment marginalizes the “one big bomb” path to victory.
Terror kills just shy of 75% of creatures in the cube. Victim of Night kills about 95% of creatures. Do you need more information?
Red has plenty of burn, with Chandra’s Outrage topping the charts in terms of efficiency (you basically get six damage for four mana on one card). Traitorous Blood is an Act of Treason variant, and it plays into red’s attack strategy in a different way than the Outrage. I’m not sure this change is the absolute best, but creatures with four or more toughness can breathe a sigh of relief (as creatures with four or more power get a little worst in general against red decks).
I can share that I already experienced a truly outrageous blowout to this card already.
As a casual gamer and purveyor of all formats funky, I really dig cards like Dead // Gone. Split card giving an effect that completely unexpected in a color? Sign. Me. Up.
However, that doesn’t make the entire card good. Brimstone Volley is a fair burn spell that gets wicked efficient under a very normal condition in pauper cubing: a creature died. For comparison, Char deals less damage and a self-inflicted wound for the same cost. I like the two-mana burn spells, even the slower Volcanic Hammer and Fire Ambush, and Dead //Gone will just never do the job that a fully charged Brimstone Volley would.
And I still think I’d like Brimstone Volley undercharged over Dead // Gone as well.
This, too, was another hard decision. I like tricky cards, such as Dead // Gone, because how valuable a genuine trick can be in a format of absolutes. Removal absolutely kills most creatures. Counter magic absolutely stops any spell. Bladescout promised nothing outright, but functioned in so many clever ways that I was always surprised by it.
But it also often failed to deliver. And beyond the first appearance in a match, the value of the trick significantly decreased. A trick is good only when it’s hidden, unknown, and unexpected. Crossway Vampire is an absolute: that creature can’t block this turn. But it’s an absolute effect on a fairly efficient body. I’m willing to take a shot.
I really tried to like Keldon Vandals. Red is a color that wants to curve our aggressively every game. Vandals stop that curving cold, and far too often found no relevant target for the attached Shatter.
Picthburn Devils are how a true “punisher” mechanic works: I get a 3/3 in a format filled with 2/2’s, and when it dies I dish out a free Lightning Bolt. And it’s splashable. And it’s fairly costed for stapling the two cards together. And it certainly doesn’t suck like a certain other Devil.
While I like it when I realize that the correct pick in a pack is a vanilla 3/3 for three, no one will argue that Ambush Viper is totally freaking awesome.
Why not cut one of the other vanilla 3/3’s for three? Well, they’re foil and signed. So there’s that.
Wildheart Invoker always felt like a “win more” card. It breaks stalemates, yes, but green usually does that through sheer volume of threats. There are no shortage of good creatures, and no shortage of fatties. A good fatty was, generally, redundant.
Festerhide Boar brings an interesting question to the table: do you block a small fry or not? While a Hill Giant may not be terribly exciting, this is the green Gorehorn Minotaurs we’re talking about here. I see this guy breaking more stalemates in more interesting ways than the raging raptor rider ever could.
Aggressive decks need one-drops, but Pouncing Jaguar never worked out the way you wanted. Echo destroys curving out. Prey Upon is a green removal spell, costs the same as the Jaguar, and helps correct the creature/non-creature imbalance in the color. Pure win.
The little bird that could (kill a Blastoderm dead) just never found a home in blue-black decks. Plenty of removal, better creatures with flying, and more evasive critters were found at the same mana cost in both colors.
Forbidden Alchemy is a card currently seeing play in Standard since it’s an incredible piece of card quality: trading one card and three mana for the best of the next four is an amazing proposition in cube. With the black flashback, adding it to a deck with recursive effects (Hello Mnemonic Wall and Unearth!) is certainly a powerful proposition.
The tapping Faerie is a fair card, gives blue and white a reasonable tapper you’d actually want to put equipment onto, and could single-handedly stop two creatures at once (the one you tap, and the one you block). It’s a defensive card through and through.
The evolution of blue and white as a color pair in my cube took it away from control, as there are no Wrath of God effects at common in white or blue, and into a tempo-based aggressive decks. Tapping and bouncing dudes, evasion, and countering a few key spells allows blue-white to hammer just as hard as the traditionally aggressive black-red and red-green color pairs.
In a fortunate happenstance I was able to play the blue-white deck in a Winchester draft against Eric Klug, professional painter of card alters and skillful destroyer of Stybs in Magic. Feeling of Dread works exactly as I needed to completely dominate in a race that could have gone horribly wrong, removing his key blocker and attacker for two turns as a Blastoderm died staring at Guardian of the Guildpact.
His deck had answers for the Guardian, but I had positioned myself to win the race if he drew one. Feeling of Dread looks good so far!
The idea of an indestructible flying creature is a terrifying idea. There aren’t too many ways to kill it, right? Thanks to the plethora of Pacifism-type and exile-based removal, indestructible isn’t as badass as you might think. Shield never felt the bomb that Armadillo Cloak is, and there were only a handful of green-white creatures to go Superman with.
Travel Preparations is exactly the kind of green-white card the color pair needed. You want both colors to get the full effect, still get to win creature battles, and have a concrete way to upgrade utility guys, such as Sylvan Ranger, in something more formidable.
The following cards are also still in consideration depending upon if other changes are needed:
- Rebuke – I’d like to get a little more instant-speed removal in white.
- Daru Lancer – Big, morph, and first strike. It’s like bacon: delicious.
- Spare from Evil – Is a global falter good in the color with the most Humans?
- Skywatcher Adept – Aggressive blue with level up.
- Morgue Theft – Recursion is really nice; more would spread it around.
- Gerrard’s Irregulars – Slash Panther is very solid; the original should hold up well.
- Wall of Roots – I keep seeing it do great things in cubes with higher rarities.
- Moment’s Peace – Double Fog would be an utter blowout against so many decks.
- Blazing Torch – True colorless removal with relevant creature type interactions!
The End Result:
Innistrad is making waves in cubes all over. The set is absolutely awesome for Limited, and that downward power across rarities is bleeding over into cubes.
Thanks, Wizards, for making my job so much harder. I hope fellow cube owners feel the pain too.