Changing Magic, Changing Pauper

The past few weeks have seen some pretty important changes to the game of Magic. While both might be permanent they are, for the moment, temporary. I’m talking about the London Mulligan and the decision to make more exciting cards at common. Both of these tweaks will have an impact on Pauper and may require a slightly different approach to the format of commons.

The London Mulligan

While the new mulligan rule does not make its debut in tabletop until the Mythic Championship at MagicFest London, it is currently being tested on Magic Online. Unlike the current mulligan rule where each new hand requires you to go down one card, followed by a scry of one after you’ve selected your final hand, the London Mulligan lets you mulligan to a full seven cards, but for each mulligan you took you have to put one card on the bottom of your library.

At first I thought that this rule test would be a net benefit for Pauper. Non-blue Pauper decks tend to be highly reliant on their opening hand and giving them a chance to keep a hand where they have some increased control over their reduced resources looks beneficial on the surface. Decks like Elves and Tron stood to make gains since they need only a few key cards to get their engines revving. Midrange decks like Boros Monarch stood to lose the most since they have highly redundant draws already. It wasn’t that Monarch was going to get any worse, it was that the other decks were going to get incrementally better.

Early returns almost every Pauper deck has been bolstered but some are better off than others. While I had hoped that this would give non-blue decks a boost, I hadn’t given much thought to how much the new rule helps blue decks. Access to Ponder and Preordain already gave blue decks the option to keep borderline hands. Now they can keep them and stay up on cards against an opponent who has taken a mulligan or they can go down to find cantrips and dig themselves to their best cards. Combine this with the fact that most blue decks run Gush and the result is that these builds, which have always mulliganed well, just got better at that aspect of the game as well.

That being said, the test has only just begun. Cards like Adventurous Impulse and Faithless Looting have not found homes in decks designed to take advantage of the new rule. Monarch decks have not fully adjusted either, and are still trying to operate on the moderately slower old model. While I remain cautiously optimistic about the London Mulligan for Pauper, I hope it does not become a case of the rich getting richer.

More Powerful Commons

For years the Pauper community has looked towards reprint sets for powerful downshifts that could shake up the format. Now with a tweet from Andrew Brown of R&D it appears that more sets will have a chance to make an impact.

If you travel in Pauper circles for any length of time you will hear someone lament New World Order. The design philosophy, implemented around Zendikar, existed to help make Magic easier to parse. It was not about reducing the strength of cards but rather about the complexity of board states. This meant commons that were once the backbone of Limited—Silvergill Douser, Sparksmith, Samite Healer—would appear less frequently at the lowest rarity. When they did, they would often come with an activation cost. It wasn’t about making commons any weaker, just less complicated.

At the same time, in order to foster Limited play, common removal was moved away from Doom Blade style effects. While creatures largely looked the same, the impact was felt in Pauper due to the fact that removal spells have almost always outpaced the creatures. Despite the hope that “more power” at commons would mean more Gurmag Angler style threats, the early signs do not seem to indicate that will be the case.

Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty and Jaya’s Greeting are evidence that this may be true. Both are incredibly efficient removal spells despite not being as powerful as Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt. While these will have a major impact on War of the Spark Limited play, the chance that they make it into Pauper are slimmer. Jaya’s Greeting is reasonable in a deck that could want the scry and Cruelty has the advantage of killing Gurmag Angler while also exiling problem creatures like Stormbound Geist, but neither are “cheap” when compared to removal that already sees play.

Instead Pauper players must look to creatures for anything that could send ripples through the format. But these creatures are not likely to be re-skins of Tarmogoyf and the aforementioned big fish. Rather they are much more likely to look like Vivien’s Grizzly.

Vivien's Grizzly

Vivien’s Grizzly is not likely to make its presence felt during combat. But in a longer game the ability to filter the top of the library and find creatures is a huge advantage. There is already a deck—Elves—that can pump gobs of mana into the spirit bear to find more bodies to chuck at the opponent. Like Dimir Guildmage before it, the Grizzly can provide an advantage if you can find the mana —powerful without being complicated. It is in part because of this need for simplicity that creatures in this new era are more likely to fill niche roles in Pauper rather than spawn entirely new archetypes. Why? It is easier to hide strength in synergy than it is to make uniquely powerful cards.

Grim InitiateLazotep Reaver

Grim Initiate and Lazotep Reaver feel like the perfect examples of this philosophy. Both of these cards play into a key theme of the set in amass. Yet they also have utility in that they represent two bodies. As a fan of sacrificing things for value, both of these Zombies can slot into Aristocrats style decks with Initiate potentially providing red builds with its own vitally needed Doomed Traveler. And as for Reaver, well, we know how I feel about Zombies.

Martyr for the CausePollenbright Druid

Proliferate is another powerful mechanic but you have to be able to get at least two counters out of it to be worth a full card. Pollenbright Druid and Martyr for the Cause can power up a counter-based strategy. Or, in the case of Martyr, help Carrion Feeder and Mortician Beetle find their full potential.

Pauper is not a format in isolation. Rather, it exists in the wider world of Magic. These changes—the London Mulligan and stronger commons—will change Pauper. Hopefully, the change is for the better.


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