I never thought I’d see Pauper as an officially recognized format. But here we are. I think the decisions made regarding the format–moving all commons to Magic Online and unifying the legality list–is correct, and I’m excited for the format moving forward.
These old cards will arrive the same day as Core Set 2020 (and the London Mulligan). Pauper is still sorting itself out from the double impact of the Blue Monday bans and the release of Modern Horizons. The result: the format has barely settled and is about to get an injection of new tools. These are the cards I am most excited to try out.
Pauper Completely Changes… Again
I think this card is too expensive to see play. Five mana for five power across two bodies is close, but Moan of the Unhallowed has yet to gain traction. The key is that Necromancer can exile a creature from the graveyard. Many decks in Pauper treat that zone as a toolbox, so being able to steal your adversary’s screwdriver and leave them only with hammers could make their life harder. When you take all these pieces together, you get a package that is close to good enough to see play. The biggest hurdle is that it is a five-mana card that does not immediately win you the game.
Phyrexian Rager is a staple of the format for its ability to replace itself and crack in for two damage. Cloudkin Seer might be more vulnerable to Electrickery, but besides that looks like an upgrade. It doesn’t cost you a life point and it can still be brought back with Unearth. Due to the current prevalence of Kor Skyfisher, the Seer is not likely to be good on offense, but it can block and trade with Glint Hawk while replacing itself.
It feels like it’s on the precipice of playable, which of course means I am going to try it out.
I’ve spent more time than I care to share trying to make Thoughtcast work in a non-Affinity control deck. Winged Words seems much better in that regard. Given how easy it is to have Kor Skyfisher or Spire Golem on the battlefield, this should be a two-mana Divination most of the time.
The biggest thing clipping Winged Words is that Accumulated Knowledge exists and is seeing play. Accumulated Knowledge asks less of you in deck building–aside from dedicating four slots to it–and has the benefit of being an instant. Accumulated Knowledge has the downside of making your opponent’s copies better. In those instances, Think Twice is better. The bounty of blue card draw spells means Winged Words is far down the list of supplemental draw spells except in decks that run a lot of cheap fliers. In those cases, drawing two on the second turn could be good enough.
Before diving into the goods from days gone by, here are some cards I don’t think make waves. Blue Elemental Blast and Red Elemental Blast will see play but considering both Hydroblast and Pyroblast exist already, this doesn’t change much besides availability. Ashnod’s Altar is neat, but I have yet to find a way to turn this sacrifice outlet into a viable combo.
As for cards that could have an impact…
Ashes to Ashes looks to be a neat removal spell that comes with a hefty price tag. Five damage is a lot, but the ability to exile two creatures at three mana is something we have not seen before.
Phyrexian War Beast is a nice body that dodges Lightning Bolt. The drawback is hefty, but at that point in the game most aggressive decks are okay losing a land. Razor Golem has seen play in the past and giving every deck access to those stats could make attacking far more reasonable–remember that artifacts get around Prismatic Strands.
I don’t know if Unstable Mutation will see play, but it certainly interests me. Pairing it with Seeker of the Way or Fencing Ace in white could pile on the damage rather quickly. There’s no reason why a Slither Blade couldn’t discover the secret of the ooze and start crashing in.
Breath of Life/False Defeat
I love reanimator strategies. Bringing these two cards into the fold now gives Pauper access to three four-mana reanimation spells along with Exhume. This changes the focus from having enough Zombify effects, to whether there are cards worth targeting. Pauper has a few solid “Baneslayers” (creatures that are good enough on combat stats alone). Ulamog’s Crusher, Eldrazi Devastator, and Wrecking Beast are all cards that look better on the fourth turn.
Outside of that, however, there is not a ton to bring back from the dead. There are very few creatures that generate value upon entering the battlefield that you would feel comfortable as a four-mana sink. There’s Iona; no Griselbrand. If you are going this route your goal is to beat face early and often. Wrecking Beast is good at the early part and Ulamog’s Crusher has the advantage of getting around Fog locks.
This card has been legal in Card Kingdom’s Rags to Riches tournament series and has helped Mystical Teachings decks succeed there. The ability to keep a conditional pinger in your land slot is huge. The problem is that Desert requires a creature to cross it before it takes a toll. In a world of Weather the Storm, this drawback is minimized. Desert could do a lot to keep X/1 creatures off the board (which will matter a little bit later). The current crop of aggressive decks is hardly impacted since they tend to run two-toughness creatures, but if Desert decks could get two copies in play then things get rough. Aggressive decks already have a hard enough time in the format since the removal far outpaces creatures, and Desert is not going to make things any better.
Pauper has access to Bojuka Bog, Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus, and more. Tormod’s Crypt is nothing new, but it does give these decks yet another option for attacking the graveyard. The ability to Trinket Mage for this and use it on the same turn for no additional mana investment could change the texture of games involving the graveyard. Tormod’s Crypt is another tool in fighting against Ghostly Flicker loops. Will it be enough to stop them from succeeding? No, of course not. These cards can help contain decks that utilize the graveyard as a resource, but have a hard time eliminating the threat considering they lack the element of surprise.
Outside of Tron, Pauper does not have access to lands that can produce an abundance of mana. There are no Sol Rings and certainly no copies of Tolarian Academy running around. In other words, Mystic Remora will have to be played fairly. That said, the ability to delay Arcum’s Astrolabe decks or force them to feed you cards could help to keep these decks in check. Astrolabe decks and Tron builds cast a ton of noncreature spells, and having a Remora on the table can potentially draw you to an answer.
There are a lot of problems with this. First, you must keep Remora on the board and that means investing your mana in your upkeep, meaning you do not get to develop your own board. Eventually Astrolabe decks will cast a Kor Skyfisher and Tron decks will resolve a Mulldrifter. Will the time be valuable enough to warrant wasting it? I’m not sure. Pauper is full of cheap answers and expensive threats, so it is possible that Remora does just enough to see play–I know I’m excited to try it out.
Here we go. For my money, this is the most important card entering Pauper. Five damage for one mana is huge, even if it gets stopped by Hydroblast, Blue Elemental Blast, and Spellstutter Sprite. The ability to start your opponent on effectively 15 life means they have less time to find their defensive measures.
Goblins can lead on Foundry Street Denizen into Mogg War Marshal into Goblin Bushwhacker. This start can put an opponent to seven life on turn three. Throw a Grenade and they’re now down to two. Even with Weather the Storm, that is a ton of pressure before the Storm count gets too high. Goblin Grenade will punish players for taking turns off. While it likely will be held in check, I think that this card will bend the metagame to its will early.
This is a turning point for Pauper. The metagame will shift, the format will be more accessible, and everything will change. My advice: be prepared for everything.