This is a guest post written by James Lennox-Gordon who you can find on twitter. If you’d like to contribute to cubedrafting.com, contact evan dot erwin at starcitygames dot com.
With Innistrad on the horizon, Magic 2012 is fast settling into its role as the core set that will oversee Standard for the next year. The mythic titans return once again alongside a bunch of new Planeswalkers and various other format defining cards like Solemn Simulacrum and Skinshifter . We here at The Peasant Cube however concern ourselves not with mythic bombs and spikey rares, but with the strong – if not necessarily sexy – workhorses of the set. And while the set if full of good, fascinating and staple cards with black and silver expansion symbols, below are a selection of some of our favourites along with other peasant-legal cards that we think are among the most interesting. Both old and new are present and we’ve provided a brief commentary on the card along with a suggestion or two for alternatives.
This is an all-round strong cards and it’s good to see it back for another year. Green is not short of Naturalize effects, and Creeping Mold and Ice Storm effects can be found in green without looking too hard. The advantage of having the Slime in the cube is twofold. It gives card advantage to a colour that is often lacking in that department. It also goes some lengths to breaking the redundancy in green; a pile with Krosan Grip, Seal of Primordium and Acidic Slime is more interesting/less repetitive than Grip, Naturalize and Creeping Mold. It also has a more interesting interaction with cards like Zombify and Momentary Blink.
As far as the stats go, a 2/2 for 5 mana is not normally something to brag about. It trades down with smaller, cheaper creatures, however having death touch means it also trades up with bigger, expensive creatures too. This means that, on the defensive at least, you don’t lose as too mana in the exchange.
This has returned in M12 to facilitate the sets enchantment sum-theme. While your cube may not have enchantments in the same quantity as the core set, the chances are the overall quality of the average enchantment is greater than M12’s. Auras such as Faiths Fetters, Control Magic and Armadillo Cloak often end up in the graveyard as your opponent gets rid of them or the creatures they enchant. Other enchantments, like the seals, Compulsion and Zektar Shrine Expedition put themselves in the bin doing half of the work for you. Auramancer may have identity issues. It is only be a 2/2 for 3 mana which means in may not be good in an aggressive weenie strategy and the card advantage may not be necessary in a control strategy. That said, I’m sure white weenie wouldn’t say no to rebuying a previously countered Rancor. Nor blue-white control to getting back a Volition Reins.
I am personally a big fan of Belltower Sphinx. It is an alternate win condition card with utility outside of a dedicated mill strategy. This is something that a lot of alternate win conditions have difficulty achieving.
Strategies such as decking and poison are often parasitic; you need to fill your deck with as many cards with that goal as possible. If you don’t, your deck ends up weaker than a deck that wins through conventional means. From a cube builder’s perspective that means that if you include any mill cards, you need to include enough for it to be a viable strategy. If you don’t people will quickly realise its not a playable deck and what few cards you do have in the cube end up dead cards taking up valuable cube real-estate. What number of cards equates “enough” is a matter of opinion but you should take into consideration the size of your cube with regards to the percentage of cards that actually get seen in each draft.
Belltower Sphinx is a mill card disguised as a big flying creature. It is a win condition on two fronts and slots nicely into any blue mill deck while also being playable in control. This means that players not in a dedicated mill strategy (of which there are likely to be many) can play it and it won’t always end up 15th pick when nobody want to draft in that direction. In this respect it has a similar role to Broken Ambitions or Lurking Informant as opposed to cards like Millstone or Tome Scour which have one function only.
This isn’t strictly a reprint. It is however almost identical to Goldmeadow Harrier. Even their types are similar; they are both soldiers. One mana tappers are good because they act as cheap removal which can then upgrade when a bigger creature is summoned, similar to Prison Term. They also help to break up the redundancy of white removal which is often a variant of Pacifism or Sword to Plowshares. While tapping a creature down may not be able to deal with creatures that have abilities in the same way that ‘destroy’ or ‘exile’ effects or lethal damage can, being able to control when a player uses an ability with a
An old fan favourite, Sengir Vampire has made this list to celebrate being back at uncommon in the core set. Last seen in 10th edition as a rare, the vampire is a powerful creature for black and can be both top of the curve in a Bx aggressive deck, or a finisher in UB control. The leeching ability is often a win-more however just a couple of triggers can put it out of the range for most removal and creatures to deal with. Sengir Vampire mirrors Serra Angel in both stats and history, both playing similar roles in black and white respectively.
Thran Golem is one of two reprinted cards in this list where M12 is their debut at uncommon. It is also a card that ties in with M12’s enchantment sub-theme. Unlike Auramancer however, it only interacts with auras that you are happy to put on your own creatures. These are scarce in comparison to Pacifism style auras due to the potential for loss of card advantage. There are some auras that have built in card advantage in order to mitigate the potential loss such as Rancor and Griffin Guide. Others, such as Armadillo Cloak and Pollenbright Wings are so powerful that even one hit from an enchanted Golem makes them worthwhile. While a 3/3 for 5 is unexciting, a 5/5 with flying, first strike and trample is game winning. Having just a couple of auras that can ‘turn on’ Thran Golem is probably enough and can make it a good inclusion in your cube without the need for an aura subtheme.
Something that has been lacking in Magic’s history is common and uncommon dragons. The best we had are baby dragons or drakes. To fill the role of ‘dragon’ – i.e. big red flying beater – we’ve had to turn to cards such as Sabertooth Wyvern and Geyser Glider. All this ends with M12! Volcanic Dragon is the other card on our list of rares-turned-uncommon and will give a big boost to red decks in pauper cubes across the world. This is one of the cards I’m personally more excited about for my cube as red has been under represented in the past and was easily outclassed in the late game by other colours angels, demons, elementals, wurms and such.
Similar to: Nothing at un/common!
This is an interesting win condition for black decks that draw a lot of cards or expect games to go long. It is also a discard outlet for cards with madness, getting Wonder in the bin or to make yourself hellbent etc. Zombie Infestation does a lot of the same things as Psychatog but is a bit less efficient. However in peasant cube there are less sweepers than most other formats whereas there is a lot of strong point removal making a bunch of 2/2s sometimes more relevant than a single big creature. While Zombie Infestation may not be a powerhouse, it in a win condition that can facilitate some nice interactions with other cards and mechanics giving the players unique tools to play with.
Green removal is always something that raises an eyebrow. It is usually clunky and overcosted. Arachnus Web actually looks pretty good as an Arrest variant. That is until you reach the last line of text. In M12 draft you have the chance to play the web alongside Arachnus Spinner which means that the web can be a source of card advantage and even though you have to sacrifice it when it’s on a big creature, you can bring it back again as long as its counterpart is still in play. In peasant cube you don’t have the ability to pair them together as Arachnus Spinner is a rare. Still, the web is the best of a bad bunch when it comes to green removal and if you’re dead set on giving green this type of ability, Arachnus Web may be the answer you have been looking for.
The hexproof ability of this card is what really makes it stand out (that and the awesome artwork). While a 2/2 flier for 4 may not be the most efficient body ever printed, its ability to doge removal while flying over head makes this card a viable route to victory. The one sidedness of hexproof means that Aven Fleetwing can be enchanted or equipped to speed up the clock and make it more of a brawler in creature combat. Aven Fleetwing may not look all that impressive at first glance but the combination of unblockability and untargetablility means that it can take over games if people don;t pay it the attention it deserves.
There has been a debate in the past on whether having an ability like this on a fragile creature is better than having it on an enchantment or artifact. Sure, Treasure Trove can’t attack for two, but it can’t be bolted either. Much like how Dark Confidant is considered far and away better than Dark Tutelage, I think Azure Mage is much stronger for being stood on two legs. Being able to attack and block early while still having reach late game means this guy is rarely a dead draw. You may not be too happy if you see it in your opening hand but at least you will get some utility.
It should also be pointed out that the activated ability doesn’t require a tap as part if the cost. This not only means that you can throw it into the red zone and still draw a card, but when you hit eight mana you can start drawing two additional cards a turn which will make it very hard for you to lose in long, drawn out games.
Peasant-legal utility lands tend to be – other than a few exceptions – rather lackluster. Cards such as Gods’ Eye, Gate to the Reikai and Zoetic Cavern are enlisted to keep numbers up and drafting them interesting. Buried Ruin comfortably sits between completely broken and borderline useless and gives decks that can use it a powerful effect. Returning a Serrated Arrows, Armillary Sphere or any artifact creature can be crucial late game when the need for extra land is minimal and the need for extra spells is a premium.
Similar to: Not a whole lot, nothing at un/common
Throughout Magic’s history, the majority of creatures that make 1/1 tokens tend to have built in mechanisms to stop the swarm coming too hard, too fast. The most common of these is a tap activation meaning that, without a way to untap, you can only create one token per turn. This is not the case with Jade Mage which can allow you to make multiple tokens a turn if you have enough mana. This is likely as the activation costs of three mana is actually quite cheap, especially at un/common. This means that two activations costs six, three cost nine etc. Compare this to an activation of four, which is more common in the past, which costs eight mana to activate twice and a whopping twelve mana to activate just three times. I don’t wish to labour the point but I want it to be clear that while three mana may not seem that cheap at first, it soon becomes obvious that only costing three is a big deal.
Recently we had a cycle of artifacts like this in the Shard of Arala Obelisks. Seven years prior to that, we had the invasion cameos. Manalith is a strict upgrade to all of these in a straight up comparison however including one over the other change significantly change the dynamic of your cube.
If you chose to include the cameos, each allied colour pair has access to one, completely on-colour cameo. If you choose to include the obelisks, each allied pair now has access to two 3-mana on-colour ramp artifacts. This not only increases competition for each card, but also increases the number of artifact colour fixing spells a deck can have. If you choose to have Manalith in your cube instead, you have just one card that fills all roles, instead of splitting them up between five cards. This means that there is more competition for the card when drafting (which translates to it getting picked higher) but also decreases how many artifact ramp spells a deck can play. This has a knock on effect that makes aggressive decks a bit more powerful.
It would be wrong to talk about mana artifacts without giving a brief mention of the ravinca signets which are stronger than the cameos I’ve talked about above. Usman Jamil wrote a great article about the signets here on starcitygames.com which I highly recommend.
Similar to: Alloy Myr, [/card]Darksteel Ingot[card]
Taking control of an opponents creature has always been a strong effect in limited as it not only gives you +1 creatures but also gives your opponent -1 creatures which effectively puts you ahead by two. This is why Mind Control is the best non-rare in M12 limited. While the number of creatures you can steal with Master Thief is limited to robots, the fact it can steal non-creatures opens it up to another world of possibilities. Stealing an untapped mana artifact can put you just as far ahead as stealing a creature can and any artifact win a one use ability or sacrifice ability such as Courier’s Capsule or Armillary Sphere counteracts the clause that you lose control of the artifact when Master Thief dies. Another interesting interaction is with equipment. If you steal your opponents Loxodon Warhammer and equip it to your own creature, when [/card]Master Thief[/card] is gone, the equipment will stay attached to your dude until the opponent pays the equip cost to put it on one of theirs. If they don’t have a creature to equip, the warhammer will stay on your guy even though your opponent control it once again.
Similar to: Aladdin
The double black in the cost of this card make it an interesting draft pick. Something like Incinerate or Doom Blade will often be the first or second card to get picked out a booster because there is a good chance it will get played regardless of the colours that player ends up in. Sorin’s Thirst is comparable to the aforementioned cards in terms or power level however it is significantly more difficult to splash in a deck that isn’t running a lot of black. If you’re aiming to build a cube where splashing is difficult then Sorin’s Thirst is powerful removal that rewards players for going into black.
The spiritual successor to Scab-Clan Mauler with an easier casting cost. Stormblood Berserker is an aggressive two-drop in a colour that history has shown needs a lot of help. The biggest problem here is that the best one-drop red creatures are often rare. There are no Goblin Guides or Grim Lavamancers to help make the beserkers a 3/3 on turn two and this may be something you’d have to keep in mind if you add this to your cube. One way around this is free spells such as Gut Shot or delayed spells like Rift Bolt or Seal of Fire. However aiming burn spells at the opponents head on turn two may be card disadvantage that only weakens the red deck in the long run.
Timely Reinforcements has recently been proving its strength in Caw-Blade decks which can take advantage of both the life gain against aggressive decks, and the creatures in any match up where a sword is good. In peasant cube, I’m sure it will be a solid all rounder providing decks with life and bodies when under pressure. Because of the Land Tax-esque restriction it may end up in the sideboard of tempo-based Wx aggro decks but it is most likely to find a home in white-blue control decks. Where ever it ends up, it is going to hose aggressive decks, especially red ones, and this is something that should be considered before you include it in your cube.
Blue removal is often non-to-semi-permanent and tempo based such as Unsummon, Frozen Solid, Sleep or Mind Control. This means that blue needs to seek help from other colours and solely use that colours removal, or it needs to be in a tempo-based aggro deck. As green also lacks decent removal spells, blue-green decks often need to be tempo-orientated to be successful. Turn to Frog is the most recent card in a long line of Humble type effects and fills a specific role in the Ux tempo decks. It can shrink big creatures mid combat, it can almost fog a creature, and it can stop annoying combat abilities such as deathtouch and lifelink.
Hopefully this short walk through Magic 2012 has brought a few new options to light for your own cubes; be it brand spanking new M12 cards or reprints, or older analogues you didn’t know exist. Please feel free to hit me up with any questions, queries or comment either here, on my site or direct on twitter.