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How to Evaluate New MTG Cards for Pauper

Sometimes it feels as if we never leave preview season. As Magic becomes more popular than ever and caters to a wider audience, where different pockets desire disparate game pieces, there are way more products hitting the shelves. While some of these sets are focused on reprints and thus have no new cards to offer, they still matter to Pauper due to rarity shifts. All of this means that new cards are constantly being added to the format’s card pool. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways I evaluate these cards for relevance in Pauper.

In the past it was relatively rare for Standard legal sets to have much of an impact on Pauper but that changed somewhat recently. In an effort to make more spells have an impact on the board, the quality of commons also improved. This has kicked into overdrive since Adventures in the Forgotten Realms as more commons are coming with extra material upon entry. Removal has also gotten better and more flexible, whether it’s for better gameplay or to facilitate Best-of-One queues on MTG Arena. Regardless, the quality of commons has gone up and so has the flow of new cards to Pauper. 

 

 

Header - Backwards Compatibility

There are two primary ways I examine cards for Pauper viability. The first is backwards compatibility. Pauper already has an established metagame and plenty of decks that are powerful with many many more clawing their way into the fringe. Decks of this stripe are often only a few cards away from making waves and I can think of no better example than Mono-Red Blitz.

Festival CrasherAncestral AngerKessig FlamebreatherMonastery Swiftspear

After Crimson Vow, this deck had a decent skeleton with Kiln Fiend and Festival Crasher, Ancestral Anger and Kessig Flamebreather. While some players were able to put up results, it wasn’t until Double Masters 2022 gave the format Monastery Swiftspear. Turning on a dime, this deck went from a novelty to something that was helping to define the earliest turns of Pauper.

Winding Way

Fringe decks are often on the lookout for redundant pieces. Decks such as Slivers and WonderWalls were able to establish a stronger foothold in the format after Winding Way joined Lead the Stampede as ways to churn through a library. Until then, these decks either struggled to exist or in the case of Slivers had to rely on the less consistent Distant Melody.

Epicure of BloodMarauding Blight-Priest

Fringe decks are often in need of more efficient spells as well. Many players tried to make Epicure of Blood work as a Storm spout with Weather the Storm but the five-mana price tag proved too high. Marauding Blight-Priest takes the same ability but shaves two mana off the cost, giving the deck a boost, even if it isn’t exactly tearing up the queues.

But it’s not just decks on the outside that can get a boost. Established decks can look for cheaper versions of existing effects or additional pieces of synergy. Any artifact that enters the battlefield and replaces itself with a card is almost always worthy of consideration, for example, thanks to Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher. And then there’s that entire Affinity archetype, which means most cheap artifacts deserve a look.

Moon-Circuit HackerShield-Wall SentinelDrossforge Bridge

Synergy is the driving force when it comes to established archetypes. Just this year we’ve seen Moon-Circuit Hacker make waves in Faeries strategies and Shield-Wall Sentinel help to increase the redundancy of WonderWalls. The Modern Horizons 2 Bridges made waves not just because of Affinity, but also because of people desperately trying to make Cleansing Wildfire work with Darksteel Citadel.

UnearthTortured Existence

Not to be reductive, but these tend to be the obvious finds. There are many cards that just seem right for Pauper. There’s another layer to this – cards that are backwards compatible with cards that have fallen out of favor. Two cards I’m always thinking about are Unearth and Tortured Existence. Neither of these cards are going to see heavy play in the current Pauper but both get some new tools every few sets. Tortured Existence is always one broken graveyard synergy away from being a hair too slow for the format, but it’s a fun puzzle nonetheless.

 

Header - Sideways Compatibility

The next way I examine cards is something I like to call sideways compatibility. Every set made to be drafted comes with baked-in archetypes. Because there are only so many ways to combine colors in Limited, given enough time, these repeat. Using these as a baseline can provide guidance on trying to anticipate what cards might make the jump. Not to use Kiln Fiend again, but Blue-Red spells is a commonly used skeleton for Limited, so given enough time, it would make sense that this deck would break through in some capacity in Pauper.

Tolarian Terror

While it is rare, some cards will give birth to entirely new archetypes. These cards have to be extremely powerful and work in concert with cards that already see play. I think the best example of this from recent sets is Tolarian Terror. No, it hasn’t spawned entirely new strategies, but it has exerted enough will on the format that it has pushed out Dimir Faeries in the metagame in order to leverage the strength of Terror.

There are a few other things I tend to look for when evaluating new sets.

  • Incidental life gain. Red decks are everywhere in Pauper and the ability to reduce the efficacy of Lightning Bolt is never a bad thing.
  • Versatility. Cards like Destroy Evil might not be the best at either half, but being able to do both goes a long way.
  • New lands. Let’s be real – any improvement in Pauper’s mana base is a welcome addition.
  • Token generation. More and more these days, Pauper games are decided on the battlefield as opposed to the stack. Being able to bring more pieces to the party can only further this goal.

I will admit that I’m not the best at evaluating cards as they relate to combo decks. My brain is better suited to look at creatures and spells that operate above rate as opposed to fitting into some intricate puzzle. 

Pauper gets plenty of new cards every year and being able to see how they perform in Limited can go a long way in figuring out whether or not something will make the cut. If a card overperforms in a 40-card format, there’s a solid chance it can make an impact in Pauper.

 

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