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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Jul 24 2017 11:00am
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Homeless

Totally Lost

I'm starting a new series today about the awesome cards that do not see play in Pauper.  

Like other eternal formats, Pauper enjoys a healthy metagame built both of decks that are new to the scene and others that have stood the test of time. Still other tier one decks have evolved from yesterday’s top lists, either because of the introduction of new cards that push a certain strategy over the top or as a necessary adjustment in order to survive based on what other decks are doing.
 

But then there are other cards and strategies which seem like they should not only be viable but all-stars and then they’re dead on arrival. Why is that? Do they not have a home in a certain deck? Or is there a specific card or strategy that outright trumps the card. Or is there an environmental reason why this kind of card isn't viable?
 

Beginning today we’ll be looking some of these amazing commons that for one reason or another have ended up homeless.
 

I have compiled this list for two reasons:
 

  1. As a primer to new players so they can know what to expect in their first Pauper rodeo ride.

  2. As a challenge to current Pauper veterans and enthusiasts out there, especially those who favor rogue brews (I'm looking at you, Deluxeicoff), to try to find a home for some of these would be Pauper role players.
     

So first up for this week are these four monsters:
 

Blastoderm Emperor Crocodile Imperiosaur Gorehorn Minotaurs
 

In a world of magic history where Juzam Djinn is one of the most revered cards in the history of the game, and even recently Polukranos, World Eater was a force in big mana Standard Midrange decks, you would think that any common 4-drop that could boast 5/5 stats would be a force, right?

 
So why do these guys see close to zero play?  

  1. Removal is too efficient . The one thing which our format offers in spades by playing on 25 years' worth of the best Commons to ever see print is excellent, mana efficient removal. The baseline for Pauper catch-all removal is 2 mana. That's the CMC for Doom Blade and Journey to Nowhere, Chainer's Edict and Counterspell four examples of unconditional answers that can generally trade with any creature you play. Sometimes these trades are poor, for example spending two mana to kill a 1-drop like a Nettle Sentinel. Other times you are at least trading evenly on mana, say for an Atog, a Carapace Forger or a Kor Skyfisher. Usually with these catch-all cards you are willing to risk paying a mana premium for their utility. But what if we allowed the control player to only spend two mana to negate our four-drop beater? We'd actually be helping their cause often enough since we’re giving them extra mana in the exchange, essentially trading all of our turn 4’s resources for only a portion of theirs. But there's another reason why these beasty four drops don't cut the mustard either:
     

  1. The game ending threats already cost 2-3 mana. I'm not talking weenies. In our world, the competitive rate for a one-mana beater is a 2/2 with each deck tailored to mitigate relative drawbacks. Creatures larger than 1 mana cost are either chosen for their powerful ETB effect, like Augur of Bolas, Chittering Rats or Mulldrifter or because unanswered they have the potential to be game-ending finishers,cards like Kiln Fiend, Silhana Ledgewalker and the aforementioned Atog. Cost reduction mechanics also throw two more seemingly overcosted monsters into the mix, namely Myr Enforcer and Gurmag Angler. Where our green monsters shown above will always cost the full 4 mana retail, with the right build for these two, you're looking at a 0-2 mana vanilla 4/4 and a 1-3 mana vanilla 5/5, both significantly more efficient than our big green friends we listed above.
     

Who’s up next on for Occam’s Razor?

Coiling Oracle Nature's Lore Three Visits Kodama's Reach
 

I'm lumping all four of these together because they represent a strategy that we would think should have a home in Pauper given how strong a set of ramp spells there are legal in the format. So why isn't green ramp a thing when we have so many great ramp cards legal in Pauper?

 

  1. The payoffs are too weak. Last week I ran an example of a green red Ponza deck that was built to simulate the brutality it brings to modern. So why is that deck a below average Pauper brew? The ramp is all there but there's no Inferno Titan or Primeval Titan. No big payoff card that really punishes our opponent for letting us get to six mana while they're stuck on two. At least none that threaten to end the game the turn after their cast. We don't have a Scapeshift that says if I make it to seven lands in play then I win. The best we can muster are big creatures who trade down with removal, or ETB cards like Mulldrifter who pull us up on cards but don't slam the door.
     

  1. Control is too good. This is a world of efficient two mana counters, re-useable two mana kill spells, and lots of valuable incremental card draw. If I ramp out to five, and my opponent lets me get out my accelerant cards but then just sits on a counter for my one big payoff card, what good was that? In terms of the relative cost of answers and threats, Pauper is at a power level a lot closer to Legacy than Standard, with a lot of overlapping Legacy staple cards, like Ponder, Daze, Brainstorm and Gush. And there’s a good debate which is a more powerful format between Modern and Pauper.
     

  1. There’s a more superior ramp deck that isn't limited by color. When it was legal, the most oppressive thin you could do with unlimited mana was Cloudpost. Today, we have to settle for Tron. These are typically 3-5 color control builds that win one of three ways: a) Generate enough mana to either burn your face for 20+ via Rolling Thunder; b) recur their own cards with loop pieces like Pulse of Murasa, Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker until your strategy is irrelevant, and/or; c) bounce all your permanents via Capsize or a flickered Dinrova Horror.
     

Now if you do insist on playing a green mana deck, your consolation prize is the explosive Elves. While it can't Natural Order into Craterhoof Behemoth, it can hit for 20 on turn 5 with any unblocked dork that gets through via Timberwatch Elf and Quirion Ranger. I can draw a bazillion cards and deploy them all on the same turn via Distant Melody and Priest of Titania. It can stall out the game almost indefinitely with a triple digit life total via Wellwisher. Or if there’s a board stall, it can machine gun down the other team with a passed around Viridian Longbow. So this Legacy lite strategy still gets to do some dirty things in our world of only Commons.
 

Okay… last big category for today:

Izzet Signet Rakdos Signet Mind Stone Fellwar Stone
 

Wow… these cards are busted! There is a darn good reason we don't see 2 CMC mana rocks any more. In my favorite format, Cube draft, signets are routinely cards that you take with your first four picks in a pack. Not only do they ramp you from 2-4, but they fix your mana at the same time for free! You'll regularly play a signet in Cube if you're only one of the two colors included, and I've even seen decks run a signet where it didn't have a direct use for either color if it had enough artifact synergy. So why don't the signets get their proper Pauper love?
 

  1. No Planeswalkers. The classic Midrange strategy of turn 2 accelerant into turn 4 Planeswalker doesn't have the same playoff when there's no recursive value in dropping your 4-drop a turn early. Four drops are almost non-existent in Pauper. Unless they're a combo piece like Archaeomancer, or an army in a can like Battle Screech, there is little value in relying on your four drop when you risk it getting countered for 2 mana or run over by Aggro dorks. Add to this a world with almost no sweepers and you can see why the kind of Midrange plan we’ve seen in standards past might need a retooling.
     

  1. The artifact decks don't need them. I mentioned that signets do three things: ramp, fix, and be a relevant card type for artifact matters decks. Well, the two decks that most care about having artifacts in play, Affinity and Metalcraft Boros don't need signets. Why? Because Pauper allows for all six artifact lands! Want to get your artifact count up to turn on your extra abilities and cost reduction effects via Affinity for Artifacts? Then the best place to start is with the zero mana artifact lands. The other card that takes precede the over Signets for the sake of fixing is Prophetic Prism. Not only does it filter all five colors for free, but in addition to counting as an artifact, it replaces itself and encourages recursion via bounce and Flicker effects. Signets do what they do well, but Prism does what more decks need. For the record, the two mana rocks that have seen any play in recent events are Prismatic Lens and Simic Signet, both in Tron.
     

  1. Mana curves matter… a lot! Want to know what the three most powerful lands are in Pauper? Basic Island, Basic Mountain, and Basic Forest. In the absence of true comes into play untapped dual lands, basics aren't there to be a safety valve for Blood Moon and Path to Exile, but are actually your only choice if you are trying to use all your mana on curve each of your first three turns. Basics, or rather the absence of true dual lands, are the major reason the format’s level decks one are all monocolored: Blue Delver, Green Stompy and Red Burn. When playing these decks, you absolutely need some kind of early interaction. Taking turn 2 off to play a mana rock just isn't that appealing to me, especially in absence of haymaker four drops.
     

That's it for this time. Next time I'll be back with more individually powerful cards that are out there looking for a home.
 

Got a deck that you've found a great way to use the four mana 5/5s, green ramp spells or mana rocks? Tell me about it! I’d love to hear your successes in creative Pauper brewing.
 

Keep having fun out there.
 

SteveJeltz