Some of the greatest, and most enjoyable experiences, that have been claimed in my interaction with friends, were Lorwyn and Ravnica (including RtR) events. Our Cubes are, or can be, a lot like those. They can also be a lot like Mirrodin (including the second trip).
Introduction and Block Styles
Lorwyn and Ravnica: Deck-Weaving
Mirrodin: Set Collection
Deck-Weaving – This is a living objective. Where every card is meant to reinforce an archetype or style of play.
Set Collection – This is picking up pieces to a machine. Much like the Combo Cube. You have linear paths of design, and you either stick to that plan or end up with a less than optimal machine.
Part 1: Drafting on Rails
Mirrodin: Robots and their Narrow-Minded Masters
Both Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin blocks had an Artifacts-Matter theme. But, that could not be the only theme, or else everyone would be fighting over the same cards and the archetypes would be “Who got the better parts?”.
Scars had Metalcraft (Artifacts) and Infect (Poison) as the main overall mechanics. There were other things like Proliferate, but that was sort of a catch-all support mechanic for both sides.
Both ideas in Scars was about finding pieces that either had the appropriate keyword or supported that keyword. There were rogue archetypes like Sky-Eel School ‘Remnant’ Good-Stuff, but overall it was Infect vs Metalcraft; and their mirror matches.
Like the previous showings of Slivers, these are Set-Collection; getting the most of a certain style/mechanic. That is why when Cube designers want to support Mirrodin ideals they have to make an Artifact Cube, and not just throw the mechanics into their existing Cube.
Here are some archetypes that become linear with ‘too much support’: URSpells-Matter:Kiln Fiend and/or Nivix Cyclops
The Spells-Matter archetype is almost required to be UR because of Wee Dragonauts, Goblin Electromancer. Izzet Chronarch and Nivix Cyclops. This not a bad thing, but it does mean that if you are based in Izzet, you are locked into that design; most likely because your limited Gold section only has the creatures and a few other cards.
--Spells-Matter Crossover— Mystical Teachings and Impulse are less than the uber-efficent Ponder. Their strength to this archetype is the Instant type. Nivix Cyclops is a 1 / 4 Defender that often times is either a Horned Turtle or pseudo-Hungry Spriggan. This lets that defining card be a 4/4 whenever you want, and more often.
Extreme inclusion here would be Merchant Scroll or Uncovered Clues. That also is defined by your Blue/Blue-Paired cards. This card has crossover potential later besides the previous two.
--Heroic Can Be Included Here- -
Heroic wants spells, not abilities, to target the creatures. Well, there are some buyback ones whose sole purpose is combat:
The odd choices of Change of Heart and Mind Games are defensive spells that can be played EoT on an already used creature that needs buffing; or even during combat after declaring attackers. Wing-War Siren and Wavecrash Triton can be included in a broader UR Spells-Matter design and fit acceptably. Upping the Aura count with Aqueous Form could also be easy enough; or the already perfect Artful Dodge is worth 2 Heroic triggers.
--Flashback in Spells-Matter- -
Teachings was already mentioned. But just to reiterate, look for applicable spells that may be in your watch list, and see if they fit in an otherwise rock-solid placing. Example: Geist Flame instead of Fireslinger
Untargetable troops, or things that give Hexproof could be considered for your Izzet titans. Eland Shieldmate fits into the plans, but it comes at an awkward place in the curve.
Blink-Style decks are most likely UW because of the namesake card. In order to support this as a true style, with redundancies, Cloudshift, Otherworldly Journey, and Ghostly Flicker end up in the cube as well. Unlike the Blink card itself, these are generally single shot spells, so more are needed. This style can be extended to use other means.
The archetype that fits this ideology well is Blink. Now, Blink is about Enters the Battlefiled, possible Leaves the Battlefield, abilities on creatures.
To both reinforce, and provide alternate measures, we can use mechanics like Gating (Silver Drake). Returning creatures to hand from play, or even from the graveyard, is a similar yet mechanic free idea. The Esper (WUB) color set is mostly where this will be getting its strength from.
--Blink Crossover-- Blink and Gating creatures with Flash have an exclusive strength with Evoke (Mulldrifter). Returning these creatures after they die is good (gravediggers), but not as effective. How many cards with Evoke does the average cube run? Maybe 2; Mulldrifter and Aethersnipe. There are others, but not as common. Pauper did not get many Evoke cards with affordable costs.
Instead of all the spell-based tricks, simply having more Gating cards like Keymaster Rogue could support Blink-“feeling” decks, but broaden the archetype to other pairings. Ninjas (Ninja of the Deep Hours and Okiba-Gang Shinobi) also have some synergies. Cavern Harpy is sort of the perfect, and yet worst crossover. Black has the Gravediggers, and Blinking them is a very long game strategy. Which Blink can play, but usually likes to already be winning by that time.
--Graveyard in Blink- -
In the Graveyard-Matters topic, Font of Returns is mentioned. If your Blink ideology can extend into Auramancer. or even the amazing Custodi Squire, then there is some ground for the Esper (WUB) mix.
The Morgue Theft can fit into Spells-Matter, Graveyard-Matters, and essentially extend the Blink mentality to what used to be known as Solar Flare (Esper control/tempo deck that used both deck and graveyard to gain advantage).
Part 2: Looking at Looser Designs That Work Already
Lorwyn and Ravnica: Warm Horizons
Flowery title aside, the blocks had a lot of things right in their design space for limited (both sealed and draft). Lorwyn had Tribes; creature types that fed specific cards. Ravnica had 10 Guilds; theme and mechanic driven designs.
Lorwyn had multiple Tribes in each color, especially once ‘Class’ was added in Morningtide. You have cards like Nectar Faerie or Wellgabber Apothocary that cared about two types simultaneously. The Treefolk tribe was spread over WBG, and Elementals were in all five colors. The design was said to have ‘too many’ on-board interactions, and was confusing for some players. That was the feedback Wizards got from players. Those were not Pauper Cube veterans.
Ravnica, and its sequel Return to Ravnica, had the Guilds; one for each pairing of colors. The mechanics may not always have been strong by themselves. But, with the very accessible color-fixing, the average limited deck was 3 colors (known as Arc [Allied] or Wedge [Enemy]). The Return block featured a throwback interaction with the original Guilds, as well as interaction with the other Guilds in the block. The +1/+1 counter theme was in both Simic (UG) and Rakdos (BR) with their mechanics Evolve (Graft in original Ravnica) and Unleash; respectively. That is impressive by any design standards.
Here are some ‘archetypes’ that are looser in parameters: BGGraveyard-Matters
BGGraveyard Interaction is a broader idea. It has the mechanics of Dredge, Scavange, Unearth, Flashback, and Recover. So pinning this down is more like just saying something is B/X Midrange. But the support for this style is playing to the strong suits of both Pauper and Black. Gravedigger has been a pillar example of card advantage since its release in Tempest, and there is similar cards/mechanics that support card advantage from the “alternate” library (graveyard).
--Graveyard Interaction Crossover--
This is typically the Rock (BG Good-Stuff Midrange), because that is where the mechanics take us. Recently we got Custodi Squire, and to a lesser extent Griffin Dreamfinder. We also got the Bestow mechanic (Nyxborn Wolf) recently.
Bestow allows decks to have bodies that are good early and late, never really being perfect at either time, but also beating the disadvantage Auras typically have had by becoming creatures when their target is removed.
**With the exception of Red, the other colors have Bestow creatures that have affordable front and back ends. Red’s two entries are very underwhelming (Nyxborn Rollicker) or are very over-costed (Spearpoint Oread).**
This allows White to have their ‘Gravediggers’ like Auramancer to actually gravedig and return creatures. It is not the most efficient use. However, the crossover of White getting back creatures and Black getting back Auras is very pleasant to the limited player by not pigeon-holding them to the color’s limitations. Having Black support Midrange beyond kill spells broadens the choices in a pack.
Subtle changes like Font of Return can have large ripples. It is an enchantment; White likes that. It returns 3 creatures in 1 large swing; Midrange, and to an extent Tempo likes that. It is paid over 2 turns; Aggro can afford that at the higher end.
Previously, the benchmarks Grim Harvest and Disturbed Burial had deck styles that were not as suited for their use. Aggro may have issues getting 5 mana for the Buyback on Burial. Grim Harvest’s Recover may remove it if Midrange taps out for a larger spell.
Voltron is an idea; and an old Saturday Morning Cartoon . Find a beatstick you can keep alive, (preferably it can keep itself alive) and suit it up with Equipmant or Auras, then… Attack!
It is essentially the theme of Exalted, but without needing only one attacker. It is just the idea of putting most of your eggs in one basket. Aven Fleetwing + Vulshok Morningstar + Rancor
Either G or U based, this has been receiving a boon as of late with better Auras and more Hexproof monsters.
The Voltron encouraging theme is usually Auras, but can be Equipment. If you run things like Snake Umbra, you want to deal damage. It does not say Combat Damage. So pingers like Prodigal Sorcerer have a purpose. This is not new as Izzet has Quicksilver Dagger.
What is cute, and less standard, is the Unblockable-style attacker. These tend to be Rogue creatures, but not always. Silhana Ledge-Walker, Deathcult Rogue, and even Noggle Bandit can carry in the extra points. This Aura-centric theme can touch on Black’s evasive bodies besides the usual if the supporting ‘enhancements’ are there; it also opens up Black’s boosters like the questionable Cloak of Confusion.
Supporting then, on color, is not hard since we got Elgaud Shieldmate, but we had Shielding Plax for forever; it just comes up more now that the archetype is supported
--Voltron Crossover- -
The biggest thing here is whether it is predominantly Auras or Equipment that buffs the bodies.
If there is more Auras, then there can be some slots used by Commune with the Gods, or including more Umbras (Hyena, Eel, Spider, etc.)
There are also Auras that have EoT triggers from Ravnica: Flight of Fancy
The ‘Dragon’ series from Scourge (Dragon’s Shadow) have use later if you have enough fatties in your Cube Inferno Fist and its ilk have a single use if need be, sort of like a Seal of Strength
**Mystical Teachings gets Eel Umbra**
Equipment already sticks around, which is the leg up on Auras
With things like Fleetwing, it has evasion and protection; it needs more juice. Monstrify and Seething Anger are two very shunned Sorceries that could have a place. The latter fits into Spells-Matter, and the prior has some weird interactions with land-fetching (something Green likes to do, and Green has Hexproof guys).
Future Sight: Getting It Right Before, During, and After
Future Sight was part of Time Spiral block; it was the Swan Song third set. It had mechanics from the block, as well as, revisiting mechanics from previous sets. It also claimed to preview mechanics that would be revisited later.
The cards that seemingly held the set together were the Dual Mechanic cards like the very familiar Sprout Swarm. This was experimental as some blending were more positively received than others. The design space is sort of a cop-out, and also genius. There was no real theme to these cards. There were mechanics without a backstory; cold and heartless. Yet, look at the impact of things like Ichor Slick, it has basically a malleable puzzle that is versatile.
If our Cube is just a culling of the history of Magic that then gets forged, boiled down, or distilled… our Cube is Future Sight. That is just fine; but do we want more?
Part 3: Making Things Better by Using Worse Parts
This overall idea is about reusing existing, or lost, ideas that also provide more than just bodies and beats.
--Enchantments Overall- -
The Enchantment push from Theros is much like the Artifact push from Mirrodin. However, because Enchantments and Auras are not as reusable, there is a greater reward for using some. Kruphix’s Insight is an extreme that ‘could’ be useful. Commune with the Gods though digs enough, and may find enough targets with some encouragement like turning your Divination into Font of Fortunes. It also turns on Cloudchaser Kestrel
The Constellation mechanic is a little sparse, but there is some room for discussion; not a lot mind you.
All of this brings up Landcycling and Tilling Treefolk. Throw in enough Higher end cards, X-Spells, or Spellshapers and it can be gently integrated. Pale Recluse is Cubable; if your Gold section is big enough or want something broader.
These have to be usable on less than 10 artifacts in the deck. Somber Hoverguard is awful without the Mirrodin support.
Scrapyard Mongrel is supported by Equipment and Mana Rocks (Signets, Mindstone, etc).
Faerie Machinist would support Equip heavy decks if they too have Mana Rocks or deck manipulation to setup this as a cantrip flier.
Sanctum Gargoyale is acceptable with about 2 targets. It is White (Blink), Flies, and is a 2/3 for 4cc. Return a fallen creature once a game, and it pays for itself.
Cogwork Librarian has to be used by someone in a draft, and a colorless Hill Giant is ok.
Cluestones and Signets exist. Have you tried them to either fix mana, or in the case of Cluestones, support slower Midrange decks while not encouraging Aggro like Signets do?
Looking into some well written and under-rated logic by Adam Styborski on GatheringMagic.com, he wrote about the interaction level in his cube being the priority. There were blurbs about the Nyxborn cycle and the removal of priority-status Rolling Thunder.
When we over-forge the Cube to be nothing but the best, we lose out on synergies that support the Cube as a whole; see Holism in philosophy. By supporting ideas and themes over the search for the best and most-efficient, you get a much more involved experience.
Mirrodin vs Ravnica is not the point of it all. Merely mentioning that Ravnica stood strong for its ability to support the player’s choices, by not force them into a tunnel where only the best choices survive.
Part 4: BONUS MATERIAL
Crossover Ideas and Coincidences
This category keeps coming up because the support is there provided the mind is open. Death Spark is replayable, as are the Retrace/Buyback/Flashback spells.
Retrace is very maliagned. The ones we hear about most often are Cenn’s Enlistment and faintly Flame Jab. Oona’s Grace and Raven’s Crime are respectable, repeatable, control-related spells. Monstrify, while seemingly over-costed, could bridge Spells-Matter and Ramp. Cultivate aka Green’s Divination, gets land into play and hand; as it says on the card. What about a late game Mulch? It would fill the ‘yard with Flashback cards in Magical-Christmas-Land.
And the natural Izzet color scheme pairs with Black to form Grixis UBR or White to form America/Raka UGR. Both are control triples, and UGR Ceta/Intet can be almost anything but Aggro (you need to try really hard there).
Petals of Insight, made better by Brago’s Favor, is a house of card advantage, but is playable at a far later point in the game than most are comfortable with. Brago’s Favor makes any repeat-casting card valuable and discounted. This means both times on a Flashback card; all Buyback (Sprout Swarm); and the aforementioned Petals.
Wee Dragonauts-esque cards get big. In constructed, Fling, Assault Strobe, and Artful Dodge are used to form a deck. The flip-side is Delver of Secrets. He gets bigger, but the card is terrible outside of Spells-Matter. He fits into the ‘Tunnel of Superior Parts’, or Cubes for People Who Like Combo.
Minor Crossover points to Aqueous Form for being an Aura that would make a large Cyclops hit hard, and having Scry to keep the spells where they need to be.
To a much, much lesser extend Heroic may fit in with enough Buyback spell support. But most of them are so miniscule before the first spell you really are not getting a discount.
--Dimir UB Control— Probe is the defining card. It is not required, but it is the poster-child. Dimir pairs Divination with Mind Rot and gives you Consult the Necrosages. [That formula is worth looking into when you look at Crossovers]
The beauty of both Azorius and Dimir are the sliding scale between Control and Tempo that exists.
If there are too many, very efficient, kill spells.. Aggro dies out. If there are more low-mana spells, Tempo blooms and outshines everything. If there are not enough card advantage options, Control is very much doomed.
Your Blue section is actually what defines much of this. There has to be efficiently costed Blue creatures, both card draw and card selection, as well as something at every point on the curve.
Try to make sure your Black and Blue support each of these cards; if so, your Cube should support anything [mana]ub[/card]
To have this pair with any color, the color restriction of a card should be weighted. 1 mana symbol is very easy to slide into any deck; 2 is very much a qualifier of a main color not a splash.
The artifact mana affects this. Prismatic Lens helps control and 3+ color decks. Mindstone helps all but the quickest of decks. The Signets are double-edged; they allow splashing to be easy, but that also means there will be more Good Stuff (grab whatever you want) and less defined styles of play.
Here is where the MTGO card selection variant helps so much; this is using the Digital Common catalog versus the Paper-only qualifier. For any archetype that becomes to strong, or prominent, there should be an easy way to stop it.
Chainer’s Edict is Pauper online. This is anti-Hexproof and Voltron. Edict (non-targeted removal) spells may soon be a necessity as Hexproof becomes more of a mainstay
These are just some examples. But if an archetype shows up easily, there should be some hate, or incidental hate. It need not be as specific as Coffin Purge that is as narrow; the creatures can atleast attack as vanillas.
Cheers for your thoughts. I think Mr Syborski gets a bum rap around these parts, but the dude plays his pauper cube all the time with a regular play group. That is something that very few people on this forum can claim they do. I would feel way more comfortable making changes to my cube if I got to 8 player draft it every couple of weeks.
The limited card pool and the wildly varying strengths of cards is what stops niche themes from being explored on these threads. I was supporting Izzet Spells for a while, as well as G/W/x auras. Instants/flash are getting a healthy infusion with New Theros. Tribal themes tend to only have a few sets to work with, and most of those linear themes are balanced around cards at higher rarities, meaning we only get the dregs or something that had a very niche function. This is in contrast to more modular themes which don't require more of the same kind of card to be good (or even playable in some cases). Most Extort cards are playable, because they are aggressively costed and most decks can cast spells with leftover mana to spare. Also you have to find a group to play with and generally people are only just convinced to give Pauper a shot because you say 'these are the most busted commons in existence'. Also people's eyes light up when they realise how much better Blastoderm is compared to every other common. (Not quite, but it's going to be a few games before they lose to Vulshok Morningstar and Porcelain Legionnaire.)
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There's no word in the goblin language for "strategy." Then again, there's no word in the goblin language for "word."