BRIAN: Hello and welcome to today’s MTG Pauper review of Commander Legends! Today, Alex Ullman and I will be trying something new: a cooperative Pauper set review. Essentially, Pauper players and fans will get a 2-for-1 review in terms of perspective.
I haven’t discussed specific card evaluations with Alex prior to writing my half of the article, so I’m actually looking forward to seeing the article published to see what he has to say and seeing where our reviews align, as well as where they diverge. Card by card, and point by point, I have no idea where we will agree or disagree which is a pretty interesting dynamic, especially to me as a co-author of this review.
I do think it’s an interesting thought exercise for thinking about new cards in the abstract and how they are likely to impact a format and metagame. While Commander Legends is specifically designed for a multiplayer Commander audience, it’s also essential to note this is an Eternal set that doesn’t need to pull any punches in order to work in Standard. My assumption before ever looking at a spoiler was that the set would be powerful, and after reviewing the spoiler I can confirm that is true especially with regard to Pauper cards.
Since the Uncommons, Rares, and Mythics don’t need to worry about breaking Standard and can be a little more powerful the same dynamic applies to the Commons chosen to round out Limited Play. The new printings, as well as downshifts (cards previously printed at Uncommon and Rare that have been moved to Common for this expansion) are quite powerful.
In terms of quality and quantity of Pauper playables with the potential to impact the format, Commander Legends is a fairly deep set and will certainly impact the format upon release. Let’s look at the cards:
THE MIGHTY MONARCH
I think that no matter what cards you care about in Commander Legends, discussion of this set starts with Fall from Favor, Azure Fleet Admiral, and Crimson Fleet Commodore. The Monarch remains a busted mechanic for two player games. Where it promotes action in multiplayer, it does the opposite in heads up Magic, turning games into a war of attrition except one player has double the resources. Fall From Favor gives the mechanic to blue at a cheap cost, but the presence of two new Pirates (both of which are immune to Fiery Cannonade) gives potential builds another way to defend their crown. This is to say nothing of the presence of Staunch Throneguard as an easier to cast Monarch enabler for Tron. Simply put, these cards are going to be major players as long as they remain legal.
BRIAN: We’re starting the review strong with Azure Fleet Admiral which earns my checkmark as the most important card in the set. I’d be floored if Alex’s explanation of The Monarch Mechanic didn’t argue that it is one of the most powerful and important mechanics in play in the meta.
Previously, we only had two four drop Monarch creatures (Thorn of the Black Rose and Palace Sentinels) in Black and White (as well as a five drop Monarch card in Green) whereas now every color will have access to wearing the crown.
Blue is the strongest color in Pauper and so a Blue Monarch creature is a huge deal. It’s the perfect card to include in aggressive Mono-Blue tempo decks to leverage aggression and gain card advantage. AFA also hits harder than the previous 4-drop Monarch creatures with 3 power, which is interesting.
BRIAN: Red also has access to The Monarch now. If Blue is the best color in Pauper (it is), there’s a compelling case to be made that Red is right on Blue’s tail. I have no issue saying that Red is #2.
While I think a Blue Monarch is likely a bigger deal simply because Blue is the default best, Crimson Fleet Commodore may well turn out to be the more significant printing, simply because Red Decks don’t typically have access to recurring card advantage that is THIS good. Red also has a tendency to be aggressive, which is a huge advantage at taking back the crown and using it to put opponent’s away quickly and efficiently.
Decks like Burn, as well as RDW (Goblin Aggro), will almost certainly want this card somewhere in the 75. Also, I mentioned Azure Fleet Admiral hits hard with 3 power, and CFC hits nearly twice as hard with 5 Power and Trample. The 5 Power with Trample is nice since it essentially makes it impossible to chump when trying to take back the crown, and also allows it to trade with Gurmag Angler in combat.
To me, I’m inclined to say it’s less important which of the Monarch cards is the objective best, and more important to sort of internalize the strategy of the format has changed as every color now has a legitimate way to incorporate the powerful Monarch mechanic into their strategy.
BRIAN: I saw people on MTG Twitter saying, “Why does Tron get a Monarch card!?” when this was spoiled, but I have a different assessment.Personally, I don’t want to put the Monarch Crown into play with Tron because the deck isn’t necessarily good at fighting over, unless it has the hard lock. Once Tron has the Flicker Loop going it doesn’t need the Crown to win.
If I did want to put the Monarch into play with Tron, I’d likely just play a four drop Monarch card on the splash. Staunch Throneguard is likely outclassed by cheaper Monarch cards, so long as they are legal in the format. Overall, the Monarch is one of the most powerful mechanics in the format because it provides decks with a recursive card advantage engine, in a format where that type of effect is fairly scarce. In addition, every color now has access which is certainly a new dynamic that will play out over the coming weeks.
Annoyed Altisaur is certainly something we haven’t seen much of in Pauper, a legitimately powerful ramp payoff card in green! The question is: is ramping into a 7 drop, Cascade Trampler better than Ulamog’s Crusher (the staple ramp fatty)?
I also see some tension between a seven drop Cascade payoff in a deck full of Rampant Growths or Kodama’s Reaches. We really want to hit another powerful card and not land with Cascade. Perhaps pairing Cascade with Blue library manipulation like Brainstorm puts such a strategy into the realm of playable.
Altisaur does something interesting and has a respectable statline, but ultimately when we think about Ramp we have to think about whether or not it is better than the established, best deck: Flicker Tron. I would wager there isn’t enough incentive to go this route with a Green ramp deck, when there is already a better ramp deck option available. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t expect that to be the case as long as Tron exists “as is.”
Annoyed Altisaur is the kind of card I want to love. It’s a big green monster in the mold of Craw Wurm and if you build your deck properly, it will come with a friend. There are two main issues I see with Altisaur: the first is the fail case. Most green ramp decks are filled with cards that are exceptionally strong in the early stages of the game but fall off late. I can’t wait to ramp this large lad out only to cascade into a Utopia Sprawl.
The other problem? Tron is the best deck for late game plays at the moment and casting just a big creature into a never ending stream of Moment’s Peace feels like a good way to shuffle up for game two. At least Maelstrom Colossus is easier to cast in Tron and has the upside of hitting a Mulldrifter.
Benevolent Blessing is an upgraded model of Cho-Manno’s Blessing which makes it easy to review. Cho Manno’s Blessing is already played in White Weenie Heroic and this version is better since you’ll get to preserve all of your White Enchantments already on a creature against an opposing Journey to Nowhere.
Not only is BB better, it’s also more flexible to cast requiring 1W instead of WW. It’s potentially splashable in two color decks. Imagine sticking a Benevolent Blessing on a Seeker of the Way against a Red Deck.
CHAMPION OF THE FLAME
If we only consider states, Champion of the Flame is an exciting card. It’s clearly powerful and I’ve X-0’d many drafts where I had multiple copies, but obviously winning drafts isn’t the same as Pauper matches. If Champion of the Flame were Green or White, I’d slam dunk it as a huge printing, but it’s color identity keeps it from slotting into GW Auras without putting greater emphasis on fixing to facilitate a Red splash. The other question is, would you rather have a bigger body or Hexproof? In a GW deck, I’m inclined to say Hexproof is what I’d value more.
Rather than looking at Champion through the Lens of GW Auras (where it is likely going to ride the pine) perhaps we can make use of Equipment. Pauper has plenty of solid equipment cards, Bonesplitter and Flayer Husk for instance, that could form the shell of a deck. I also reviewed Benevolent Blessing favorably and pointed out it could be a tool in a two color deck. It happens to pair nicely with Champion of the Flame while also being a nice counterspell to targeted removal that adds value as the game goes on.
This is an interesting card. Most decks that want to stack Auras feature white and this wears Ethereal Armor rather well. Unlike other go-tall red decks with Kiln Fiend, this does not have the same synergy with instants and sorceries. Instead you likely want to pair Champion with Spellgorger Weird and cards like Furor of the Bitten and Undying Rage to get the most out of this 1/1. Alternatively you can eschew white in a Bogles build and pair this with green, turning Ancestral Mask into a bad Armadillo Cloak. Or you could get greedy and try a Naya build based around Thriving Grove.
It’s no mystery what we’re meant to do with this card. We’ve seen Briarblade Adept which is also a grindy Elf card. I’m skeptical this is a deck I’d want to play with, as the cards feel expensive and less powerful than Elf-Ball but it’s an option that has acquired some interesting new pieces to play with. Don’t get me wrong, Eyeblight Massacre is a good card, but perhaps for a deck that doesn’t have the requisite pieces to thrive at the moment.
Eyeblight Massacre means Black gets another sweeper except this one has the advantage of being able to take out River Boa. Unlike Evincar’s Justice, it also doesn’t pressure your life total. Alone that would make this a niche inclusion but that’s not what excites me about this card. Rather, Elves as a deck can already easily generate different colors of mana thanks to Birchlore Rangers. It is not hard to imagine an Elves deck that opts into Elves of Deep Shadow over Elvish Mystic as a way to clear the path. Even if it doesn’t kill Kor Skyfisher, it will make it harder for it to block effectively.
Alex and I led off on the Monarch and how it now extends completely to the color pie, and I tend to see that as the biggest impact Commander Legends will have on Pauper, but #2 for me is Fiery Cannonade. It’s an impactful downshift because it provides something new to the format, a CMC effect that deals two damage to everything. We have two mana for one damage to everything, we have four mana for two damage to everything, but this distribution is new, useful, and significant.
Fiery Cannonade is also an instant which allows it to play into combat math, as well as be something that can be fired off on an opponent’s end stop which punishes over committing to the board. The decks not playing this card are likely the most impacted: decks that play a lot of small creatures which is the majority of aggro decks, get a lot worse as there is now an efficient sweeper to punish that strategy directly. The big winner is, of course, Tron! A card that punishes fast beatdown decks that can get under Tron and slows the format down plays right to all of Tron’s strengths, which is beating the ever-loving hell out of midrange decks. It’s also of note that Pirate-Clasm will always be a dead draw against Tron.
Fiery Cannonade is AMAZING against something that is good against Tron, while at the same time useless against Tron. Any impact Pirate-Clams has on Pauper will put Tron into a more favorable place. Oh, and Fiery Cannonade is also a card that Tron itself can play, and even Mystical Teachings for.
I’m not going to bury the lede here. Fiery Cannonade is probably the best card in the set for Pauper. It gives the format access to an instant speed two damage sweeper – something it has needed. Or rather, something it would need if not the presence of Tron and the Monarch. For the longest time Pauper lacked a way to deal with Burning-Tree Emissary decks that would spit out several threats as early as the second turn. While Evincar’s Justice existed, the fact that it damages the caster meant that an aggressive deck could often close the door after a board wipe. In this world, Fiery Cannonade would serve as a solid counter measure.
Except we live in a world where these decks are already struggling. The abundance of Fog effects from both Monarch and Tron mean that with Cannonade, these decks will have an easier time keeping the board clear of threats. This does matter since some strategies have moved to rely on non-combat damage like Harsh Sustenance, Ram Through, or Viridian Longbow as ways to sidestep damage prevention. Even a deck like WonderWalls, which often kills with a Bloodrite Invoker or Valakut Invoker, could feel the pinch of a well timed Fiery Cannonade. In a world without dominant Fog strategies I love what this new card does for the format. Currently? I’m wary.
SWEET DOWNSHIFT! Right off the bat, FBM slots perfectly into BG sacrifice as well as Zombie decks. Basically anything that has a lot of durdle, undying bodies can make great use. It also creates huge swings on the board when paired with Mortician Beetle, as well as insulation against Hexproof threats. Really nice downshift here.
Fleshbag Marauder is a card I have wanted to play in Pauper for years. It fits perfectly into decks with Mortician Beetle and Tortured Existence builds. The ability to routinely recur an edict effect is powerful against go-tall strategies. Giving these decks access to Marauder means that it becomes easier to handle multiple threats. Like most black removal, however, Marauder works best in a “destroy all monsters” deck. That being said, I cannot wait to try it with the Beetle and Bloodbriar.
Etherium Sculptor already exists and only sees fringe play. I think the upside of these cards is the cost reduction, more so than the body, which means I’d rather pay 2 than 3.
The interesting thing about Foundry Inspector entering the format is that we now have a lot of redundancy of cost reduction for Artifacts. So, perhaps there’s an eggs deck built around Chromatic Spheres and Stars that could be built to take advantage of a higher critical mass of Artifact cost reducing permanents. I don’t want to beatdown with this card, but I would be open to comboing off with it.
Foundry Inspector gets us one step closer to an Eggs deck. Between this and Etherium Sculptor, it feels like Pauper is just a good spout away from a Myr Retriever combo deck. Ashnod’s Altar will have its day in the sun soon, but it might be a ways away yet.
I’ve already stated I’m of the opinion that new Monarch designs and Fiery Cannonade are the most impactful printings in the set. I’ve also pointed out that I believe these high impact designs likely align to improve Flicker Tron’s position at the top of the metagame pyramid. Overall, my perception that the best Deck, Tron, gets even better is not something that excites me. Impulsive Pilferer, on the other hand, does excite me and I’ll go ahead and say that I think it’s likely right behind those other picks in terms of a card that will matter.
First of all, CMC = 1 is what I’m all about. The cheaper a card is the better it tends to be. A good one drop creature is something that interests me a lot. Secondly, I think this card can facilitate a lot of different kinds of synergy for a low, low price. Right off the bat, there are multiple places I’m interested in trying to test it out once the set is released. It’s a Goblin, it creates an artifact treasure, the treasure can color fix, and with Encore it can potentially make four permanents with one card. AND, it’s a one drop!
This is the kind of card I should love. It has a death trigger that leaves behind a Treasure token, meaning this can pump a Mortician Beetle twice. In the late game it can come back thanks to Encore and leave another Treasure behind. If there’s a deck out there that wants this effect, I’m happy to run the Goblin Pirate. That being said, I’m not sure it exists now.
I’m a big fan of this downshift. Makeshift Munitions is a synergy finisher that allows players to trade Artifacts and Creatures for damage (that can be done to either creatures or players). We can also sacrifice Artifact Lands which is a neat trick. The downshift also appears to be tailor made to be used with Impulsive Pilferer, since that card makes four permanents that can be sacrificed for damage.
A couple of other notes about Makeshift Munitions: It gives artifact based decks a solid way to grind out the Stonehorn Dignitary combat step hard lock. It is also a nice mini-combo with Chromatic Star. I could also see this card as being a nice tool for helping Atog decks battle against Mono Black Control (since MBC will have a difficult time dealing with the Enchantment, and the Artifact player can get value out of every card the Black deck throws a removal spell at).
One of the areas where Pauper strategies are sparse are actual powerful threats to win the game because this is the type of role traditionally reserved for Rares and Mythics. In fact, there are few good ways to win the game that are not answered by creature removal. For instance, there are no Planeswalkers. So, an Enchantment win con, that doubles as grindy attrition removal, is a card that interests me on a lot of levels. The first deck I’ll be building after I do some drafts will be based around Makeshift Munitions and Impuslive Pilferer!
Remember what I said about Impulsive Pilferer? This card makes that deck that much closer. While it’s no Goblin Bombardment, Munitions is one of the only cards in Pauper that serves as both a sacrifice outlet and a source of damage. The mana on the cost is a hindrance but that does not mean I won’t try to make this deck work. If it does, I imagine it uses Myr Servitor for a consistent source of fuel or Myr Moonvessel for mana.
Overall, very cool and flavorful set. It very much feels like a set that was designed to be played in paper rather than Arena (which makes sense because that is the preferred way to play Commander!), and as a primarily paper player who is slogging my way on MTGO until the Pandemic allows paper play to commence once again, I’m enjoying these designs as I’m looking forward to sleeving up in the future.
BRIAN’S TOP 4:
1. Anything with “The Monarch”
So there we have it. Commander Legends is a high powered set that is going to make massive waves in Pauper. From two great board wipes to four new Monarch cards, things are going to change in ways that feel awfully familiar.
ALEX’S TOP 4