Last week, I wrote about the most powerful MTG commons throughout the years, all the way from today to 2008. Today, I’ll be finishing my look at these Pauper-defining commons, from 2007 all the way to 1993. A few rules first:
- The card must be in its first printing and that printing must be common. That means a card like Monastery Swiftspear is not eligible for either 2022 (Double Masters 2022) or 2014 (Khans of Tarkir).
- The card must be currently legal in Pauper. It’s hard to talk about the current context of a card like Ancestral Mask if I have to put it into conversation with Daze or Gush.
- Cycles can count as one card and some not-cycles can as well if they were all released in the same calendar year. This will make sense eventually.
- This retrospective takes into account both historical relevance and a card’s current standing in the metagame.
- This is my list and if you disagree that’s awesome – sound off in the comments.
Let’s continue where we left off!
2007: Spellstutter Sprite
It takes a lot for a card to beat out Mulldrifter, but Spellstutter Sprite has the credentials. Sprite is an early play that can dictate the entire course of the game by locking out several turn one and two plays. It enables the entire Faerie macro-archetype and even though Mulldrfter can do some absurd things, Sprite just exerts so much pressure on the format as a whole.
2006: Guardian of the Guildpact
There were a lot of very important cards printed in 2006: Terramorphic Expanse gave the format its first “fetch” land, Skred and Rift Bolt gave red decks some serious tools; Utopia Sprawl has found a home in multiple decks – sometimes paired with Silhana Ledgewalker. But Guardian of the Guildpact has been a steady force in Pauper since its release thanks to how hard it can be to remove. In a format where every life point matters, the ability to block most threats and crack back for damage, all while dodging most removal, cannot be underrated.
2005: Ninja of the Deep Hours
Even if the entire Ravnica block bounceland cycle was released in 2005, they would still lose out to Ninja of the Deep Hours. This card has been powering blue decks for nearly two decades, providing a steady stream of cards and an avalanche of value. And when Magic added cheap blue creatures – say, like Spellstutter Sprite – Ninja simply got better and better.
2004: Chittering Rats
Spire Golem came out in Darksteel and helped to lock down turn four in blue control decks as four Islands, Spire Golem, Counterspell presented a defensive wall. But Chittering Rats came out in the same set and with it solidified Mono-Black Control as a strategy. Even if the format now draws enough cards to render Chittering Rats’ upside less beneficial, it continues to show up as a unique way to deny the opponent a draw step.
2003: The Artifact Lands
Technically this can be the entire affinity package from Mirrodin. These cards do not have the same impact without Myr Enforcer and Thoughtcast in the same set and it’s likely that cards such as Galvanic Blast and Carapace Forger don’t see the same level of play. Regardless, these cards have had a massive impact that is only really being felt in the wake of their indestructible cousins from Modern Horizons 2.
2002: Prismatic Strands
In a year that saw Onslaught give Elves Wellwisher and Birchlore Ranger and Torment provide the world with Deep Analysis, it is Prismatic Strands that stands above the rest. Pauper is short on ways to remove the opponent’s board but Prismatic Strands makes a decent impression by negating two attacks from monocolored decks. It has the advantage of also turning off damage from burn spells, giving white decks the opportunity to dictate the field of battle while also maintaining the monarch.
2001: Moment’s Peace
Two Fogs in a row? Pauper is a format without Time Warps but cards like Moment’s Peace do a solid impression. Considering that most aggressive decks need to close the game in one massive attack, a single Moment’s Peace can buy at least two turns, if not more. The front half negates the first attack while the flashback can force the opponent to change the way they attack in an effort to play around the prevention.
2000: Armadillo Cloak
Invasion has some all-time greats like Exclude and former format-defining card Probe, but Armadillo Cloak has stood the test of time. A key card in the Bogles deck, it used to find a home on Guardian of the Guildpact. As long as there have been creatures turning sideways in Pauper, life totals have been bolstered by the Cloak.
It was really difficult to not pick Snuff Out for 1999 (fun fact – Rancor and Snuff Out both made their way to Magic Online in the Garruk vs Liliana Duel Deck years before their sets made it to the platform). Rancor has serious staying power, ensuring that both Bogles and Stompy remain somewhat viable to this day. Rancor can push through damage like few other Auras. Come back to me in a few years and maybe I’ll say Snuff Out, but today I’m going with the card that outlives the hateful.
1998: Tortured Existence
Few other cards have captured the imagination of deck builders like Tortured Existence. One of Pauper’s true engines, it has prompted multiple different builds and provided puzzles that so many mages enjoy solving. While it might not be as powerful as some of the other cards on this list, it is certainly one of the most important as it provides something absolutely unique to Pauper.
I wanted this to be Crypt Rats or Quirion Ranger, but these cards do not hold a candle to Fireblast. Fireblast just ends games and thanks to its alternate casting cost, it can do it from seemingly nowhere. When you’re up against Burn in Pauper, there are few feelings worse than someone tapping all three of their lands before going for a Lightning Bolt, because everyone knows how that is going to end.
1996: Gorilla Shaman
Gorilla Shaman held Affinity in check until 2021. The mere presence of the Mox Monkey helped stop Affinity from running the table for years since it could just prevent the machine from playing meaningful Magic. Few other sideboard cards have had such a massive impact and it was one of the easiest picks for this list.
Brainstorm is not the powerhouse in Pauper it is in Legacy, but it is still a darn good card. While Pauper decks have to work to maximize Brainstorm, it continues to see play in conjunction with Ash Barrens and Evolving Wilds as a way to mimic the other Eternal formats play patterns. Hydroblast and Pyroblast are also considerations but considering they are more or less reskins of 1993 entries (with a difference that does matter with regards to prowess and other niche cases), Brainstorm wins out.
1994: The UrzaTron
How could it be any other suite of cards? These three lands were a dominant force in Pauper for years and continue to see heavy play. When most cards are at a similar power level, being able to deploy multiple cards in the same turn cycle can convert to a huge advantage. Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant and Urza’s Tower combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts and Pauper is better, and worse, for it.
1993: Lightning Bolt
How could it be any other card? Maybe you could argue for Counterspell except that card was Uncommon in Alpha. Lightning Bolt is a picture perfect burn spell that still holds up just as well today as it did when people started playing this game. So many other cards on this list have waned as time rolls on but Lightning Bolt remains a constant.
How could it be any other card?
This is my list, but what is yours? Where do you disagree given the parameters I set?