Changes are likely coming to our Classic Pauper metagame, though it is unclear how soon and how profound these changes will actually end up being.
While right off the bat this might sound a bit vague, what follows should clarify my position on the matter, specifically in relation to two cards that have only recently entered the format via Magic Online.
These cards aren't directly related, in other words they aren't likely to occupy the same decklists, but I think it's safe to say that neither should be taken lightly for a number of respective reasons. It's probably best to tackle each card individually, so that's exactly what we are going to do.
The Emerging Emissary
One of the defining characteristics of most (if not all) Constructed formats is each format's respective benchmark for speed. We've seen this ring true in Classic Pauper itself, and in other formats like Modern where the frequent, proactive banning of cards has been carried out largely with the goal of slowing the format down in mind.
In his Next Level Deckbuilding Seminar from 2014 Patrick Chapin addressed a number of issues dealing with format speed. Here's a specific example of what Chapin said that will help us get to why Burning-Tree Emissary is imaginably a very big deal:
The important thing isn't what turn does the game end, the important thing is the critical turn. What turn does the game get decided? What turn does the game take a shift in terms of whoever was losing starts winning?”
If you've played with or against Burning-Tree Emissary for any length of time, you'll know that in a number of cases the card can facilitate a critical turn, one that decides a game of Magic, as early as Turn 2. The free shaman, originally from Gatecrash, possesses a certain “nut draw” factor that is limited only by the number of Emissaries we currently have in our hand. Essentially any deck running the card now has access to a sort of early game explosiveness previously only enjoyed by decks like Affinity (or Delver back when Cloud of Faeries was legal).
What I'm getting at is the fact that Burning-Tree Emissary might end up serving as a litmus test for decks in the format. Can your deck deal with the average-to-above average Burning-Tree Emissary draw? Can your deck get into gear with the same level of speed and degenerate abandon? If not, kiss your deck goodbye.
I think we may be moving towards a version of Classic Pauper that resembles the era when Delver with Cloud of Faeries was highly active. During this period decks more or less needed to have something unfair going on (in other words something that granted “free wins”) in order to compete with the opposing upper-tier strategies.
Let's take Mono Green Stompy with Burning-Tree Emissary, from this Pauper League, as an example.
While obviously unlikely, this deck can theoretically start with an opening hand along the lines of two Forests, a Nettle Sentinel and four copies of Burning-Tree Emissary. Without even taking subsequent cards drawn into account, it's not hard to realize that a number of existing Pauper decks simply cannot do anything to survive this opening.
If we dial down the potency of this starting seven, by multiple degrees even (let's say there are just two Emissaries, a one-drop and another two-drop present), it will still outclass some of the traditional starts seen in Classic Pauper by a game-winning margin. This disparity in speed and sheer muscle is compounded significantly by the Stompy pilot being on the play!
I realize that I'm focusing on unlikely, borderline freak occurrences here, and that an Emissary deck's more realistic opening hand will contain just one copy of the 2/2, but it's important to recognize the explosive dynamic and early game board populating that decks running Emissary will now have access to.
The format's lack of an efficient Pyroclasm effect makes this even more of a big deal. So even if our strategy is running a Crypt Rats, Evincar's Justice or Pestilence-type effect, we may just lose the game outright before getting to cast it.
Here are a few cards that I think will see a rise and decline in value with the emergence of Burning-Tree Emissary decks:
Stock Rise: Augur of Bolas
The 1/3 that can block Emissary while picking up a removal spell is set to line up rather favorably with the 2/2 that immediately “ramps” into another threat.
Stock Rise: Echoing Decay
The ability to answer every copy of Emissary with a single card? Sign me up!
Stock Drop: The Karoo lands
I have a number of issues with these lands, and there's a decent chance I'll be writing a complete article on them at some point, but for now let's take note that an opening line of Turn 1 Forgotten Cave, Turn 2 tap it, bounce it with Boros Garrison and cycle it is not going to line up well against Turn 1 threat, Turn 2 Burning-Tree Emissary shenanigans.
Stock Drop: Sea Gate Oracle
Oracle is simply outperformed by Augur of Bolas despite not requiring a deck to be “built around” him. There's a reason Augur was originally printed at uncommon: it simply has better attributes.
Oracle is similarly outperformed by a lot of Emissary draws that occur while their pilot is on the play. I don't think Oracle will be altogether phased out of the format, but it becomes harder to justify playing him in a deck that could be playing Augurs. In summary, Burning-Tree Emissary threatens to shift the format into faster, more degenerate territory by pushing out decks that cannot match up well with a Turn 2 Emissary draw. Whether or not the card actually does prompt such a shift will take a bit of time to figure out.
The Threat of Thorn
A creature that has in some ways gone under the radar (which is rather fitting, considering the stealthy assassin depicted in the artwork), Thorn of the Black Rose will likely become very well-known by Pauper mages as time goes on.
For the first time ever, Pauper players will be able to become something called the monarch. The monarch is explained here by DailyMTG, but ultimately when a player becomes the monarch they get an emblem that lets them draw an extra card each turn! An opposing player can take the emblem away by dealing combat damage to the current monarch, thereby becoming the monarch themselves!
This is set to become a huge deal in Classic Pauper because it is the closest thing that the format has ever had to a planeswalker. In fact, this might be the closest Pauper ever gets to having a planeswalker!
What do I mean? Monarch draws us an extra card on our end step, so it's acting like an extra spell (or an activated planeswalker ability) each turn. It also creates a critical subgame by making attacking and hurting us quickly one of the opponent's highest priorities. This is extremely similar to when a planeswalker lands in other formats and prompts the opponent to immediately start attacking the thing before it gets out of control.
There are downsides to becoming the monarch that planeswalkers simply don't exhibit, however. A planeswalker doesn't tend to betray you for your enemy whenever you're dealt combat damage. But this is a big part of why (Thorn of the Black Rose) could become one of the format's defining cards! Decks may need to be built with the capability to attack at virtually all points in time. High creature counts could become mandatory, because if we simply let our opponents draw an extra card every turn we will not beat them.
Furthermore, a creature-dense, attacking-centric metagame might be exactly what (Thorn of the Black Rose) strategies want since they're already in black and have access to powerful removal and board sweepers! It's a rabbit hole of format-warping possibilities at play here, so I'm very intrigued to see how long it takes for Thorn of the Black Rose to catch on and make waves.
Currently the card has been quite difficult for me to track down online, but I have picked up a couple of copies and their performance has only solidified my above opinions. Lack of access to the card may keep it under wraps for some span of time, but don't be surprised if the format turns into a full-blown monarchy in 2017.
Please feel free to share your respective thoughts on either card, or on any of the format's other new additions!
You can also follow me on Twitter (@DimecollectorSC) for MTG-related updates and info!
Bye for now!