This article needs to start off with a disclaimer:
I am in no way an authority of expert on pauper cube.
I feel like I know a lot about regular cube and I’m insanely confident about my opinion of the format, but pauper is a new animal to me where I’m still figuring out interactions and synergies between cards, which is exciting but could also be a turn off for big pauper heads. (Do you call yourselves “pauper heads”? Since I own a pauper cube am I technically a pauper head now?!) Talking about a format when you have no idea what you’re actually talking about looks bad, and even though I have a good amount of pauper drafts under my belt, there is no chance that I’d bet on myself in a pauper cube.
That being said, some cards have shown themselves to either be clearly better or a lot of fun in the drafts we’ve had, and I’d like to spend some time talking about a few of the cards. Some will be blatantly obvious as powerful whereas others maybe not so much, but they’re all fine cards which I’ve been impressed with and have a few things to say about them.
Pestilence: The big bad daddy of pauper, this is a card that a lot of people think is the best overall in the pauper format, and I agree. Removal is key in pauper, and gaining value off the removal is even more important. Games of pauper tend to be grindier if they’re not over really quick since there aren’t any actual creatures that can shut down an opponent by themselves. There’s no wurmcoil, there’s no grave titan; you have a bunch of creatures that are fairly strong, and the best ones still need some time to stomp the proverbial boot upon your opponent’s throat. With that in mind, it becomes important to either build a board presence through multiple creatures of have 1 or 2 that you protect with either counter magic or tricks.
Because you need to keep these threats and armies in tact, pestilence becomes really insane. Pestilence is awesome. On one hand, it’s essentially a wrath. If you’re playing kind of a controlling build or your opponent is dominating the table, then being able to sweep the entire things is pretty great since you’re getting an X for 1 or 2 off the pestilence. Pestilence is also great since you can protect your own fatter dudes, even going way deep if you have something with regeneration. (Dreams can be lived through Twisted Abomination.) While your guy stays above the red, the rest of the board is wiped away and you can continue with the beats. I haven’t seen it happen yet, but something like Blastoderm into Pestilence seems insanely strong.
That being said, I don’t think Pestilence is outwardly TOO good, and there are reasons. First off, it is symmetrical, and those who have casted Balance a whole bunch know that not even the symmetrical effects that are only supposed to be good for you are actually always that consistent. There will be times where you have to question if you can pestilence this turn or just chump block since the damage you take could kill you. Also, you need creatures, so you can’t just drop Pestilence onto an empty board and be like “WHAT? WHAT?!” Pestilence takes some kind of development to set up, and that’s important when rating the card. But even with these detriments, Pestilence is a top-notch card.
Guardian of the Guildpact: A funny moment happened when I hosted an 8-man with a bunch of people who weren’t familiar with the cube at all. A player had Guardian out and I commented on their board saying something like “seems pretty good.” The player then looked confused and got to talking about Guardian, not sure why it was so amazing. Then he re-read the card:
“Protection from monocolored.”
He looked at his board and realized, wait a second, nothing actually stops Guardian that’s out there, and nothing he’s shown can deal with it too, and that’s what makes a 2/3 for 3W playable. Guardian is the main reason I’m thinking about expanding my multicolored section extensively, since there are few actual ways of dealing with him, and few permanent ways. Guardian blanks so many boards and cards that it’s not funny. Oh, you have pestilence? That’s cool. Oh, I have pestilence? GG. While a 2/3 is not exactly massive and paying 3W is asking a lot, the Guardian essentially has “protection from everything” and attacks into/blocks just about every board.
While there are answers, there are certainly silly things you can do with the multicolored parts too. Curse of Chains? Disenchant that, keep on attacking. Did you show a Branching Bolt? Well, now Guardian is wearing an Armadillo Cloak and attacks for 4 and gains me 4. Guardian is also super easy to cast too, and because he is such a pain in the ass to deal with, I truly think it’s one of the better if not best cards in the cube.
Pyrotechnics: Rolling Earthquake is the obvious one here and the card I was told by a lot of people to be the best, but Pyrotechnics is arguable better. It may seem weird since Earthquake can technically be what you want when you want it to be that card, but ‘Technics could be better on the whole for what it does.
The best way to look at it is to put the two cards side by side. Technics is obviously way worse when you’re casting Rolling Earthquake for CMC 3 or 4. Those are not the ideal spots for casting Earthquake, but that’s the beauty of an x-spell. X is a variable you define, and you define it when the board dictates you do. But when we get to CMC 5 or 6, Pyrotechnics is just a cheaper, more efficient version of Rolling Earthquake, and that counts for something. Pauper is a world filled with X/1s-2s, so that extra point of damage could mean removing a creature or having to throw it at your opponent’s face because you’re short a damage. Pyrotechnics, meanwhile, is always going to be 4 damage divided how you want for 4R.
Where does Pyrotechnics stand compared to other burn? I think I value it lower than cards like Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning. Pyrotechnics is obviously better when I need to split up the damage—and that happens much more than you’d think—but the raw power of 3 damage for R is too much and necessary if you want to fend off some of the early beats you’ll face. I probably still rank it lower than Fireball and Rolling Earthquake since the X variable really is so huge. I have casted a fireball for 1 before, and there will be other times I’d want to do that. It’s probably closer to where something like Staggershock is; a card that’s amazing, but sometimes that second shock hits nothing important or doesn’t progress the board much. Pyrotechnics is different in that I’m usually always able to get some sort of actual 2 for 1 and not just removal and face burn, but I rank them pretty closely.
Ray of Command: Act of Treason is a fine card and one I run in my cube since those effects are typically pretty strong in limited formats where aggressive decks are supported. There are enough times where a creature stands in the way of victory that taking him for your own bidding is enough to tip the scales. It’s an ability that’s been a mainstay to the red identity for as long as I’ve played magic.
Then there’s Ray of Command because why the fuck not. What does it take to make Act of Treason instant speed in another color? Uh, apparently just an extra colorless mana. Ray of Command is kind of nuts, and in blue it’s even nuttier. There are so many fliers in blue that you’re less likely to be gunked up in the skies, but fliers are generally much more fragile which makes the trading prospect unattainable or unappealing. Throw in the few reach guys that are around (I need to add deadly recluse if I haven’t; rather, should I add the recluse?) and you have an issue if you just have a couple guys in the skies. Commanding their guy instead is crazy.
There are also some funny things you can do in combat as well with Ray. If your opponent goes to double block, you can blow them by Raying their guy. Sure you might not get the extra damage, but you choose which one you live and Ray of Command becomes a pretty expensive removal spell in blue, which is fine. Again: pauper can sometimes be a fast format, but it’s ultimately grindy. Gaining value and removing important cards through tricks is so huge that Ray of Command’s stock sky rockets.
Mutagenic Growth: This is one of the first cards in pauper that I’ve grown to hate because it’s been used so effectively to me. How do you play around free spells? Do you assume that they always have it? Do you make pretend they never have it and get punished if they do? +2+2 isn’t crazy but it’s a big enough boost to circumvent a lot of the potential removal you may face. +2+2 covers a potential damage over the toughness that is being dealt, which is nice.
In terms of classification with color identity, where does Mutagenic Growth fall? It’s a tough question that every cube owner has to answer themselves. I’ve put Mutagenic Growth in the colorless section since I feel the versatility of the card has made it desirable for all decks. In green is where Mutagenic Growth is the strongest, but it’s not in concrete, There are a lot of other tricks you want to leave open in green that reliably casting the Growth for G is not realistic. The boost is actually a pretty unique ability to green in the cube, so coming out with a free +2+2 from the BW decks can be nutty, or any other combination that doesn’t look like it could cast Mutagenic Growth. It’s the same principle of cards like Birthing Pod or Noxious Revival in regular cube, where they’re ideal in the green decks but are perfectly fine and add new angles to the other colors.
This has just been a little taste of pauper, but I’m interested in hearing what’s the best in your eyes, or what cards are you favorites. Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!