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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Jul 31 2017 11:00am
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Homeless (Part II)

Lost In The Woods

 

Last week I began to discuss some of the most extraordinarily powerful Commons that are conspicuously absent from Pauper play.

 

I began with cycles, or at least similar cards whose absence as a group gives us a few solid indicators of the kind of decks and metagame we will expect to face.

 

This week we won't be featuring groups of cards but rather individual standouts.

 

My challenge you the reader once again is to

  1. Find a good home for these homeless standout Pauper cards, or,

  2. Help us to formulate the reason why these cards are ineffective if they haven’t just been overlooked from the group project that is building a format metagame.

     

I'm going to start with what I believe is the single most powerful card that doesn't see regular play:

 

Dark Ritual

Wow… this kind of sets the tone, doesn't it. So this powerful card hasn't seen print in a Standard legal set in 17 years, and yet it was and is so universally recognized as a powerful staple effect that it's had 25 different printings. Even the name of the card has become shorthand to represent its category of effect, trading a card for a short mana burst. And yet no matter how many rituals get added to the mix, Dark Ritual remains the gold standard.

 

So why is it conspicuously absent from Pauper?

 

  1. There's no big 3-5 mana play worth 2 cards and the added risk. Back in Alpha, the scariest turn one play that didn't involve Black Lotus or the five moxen was to play Swamp, Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter. It was so powerful that players clamored for Hyppie to get banned when the real culprit was the fast mana. Pauper just doesn't have the same back breaking opener off the single land into Ritual. What is the scariest thing you are going to spend your turn one BBB on? A Chittering Rats? A Liliana's Specter. Neither one of these are backbreaking.

  2. We banned Storm out of the format. Look at the list of the ten cards we’ve had to ban out of the format:

  • Cloudpost generated obscene mana (and life).
  • Invigorate enabled turn 2 kills in infect decks.
  • Cranial Plating made every Affinity card an Atog.
  • Treasure Cruise invalidated far too many other midrange strategies by being too efficient a way to refill your hand, often for as little as 1 mana. 

The other six cards? All six of them are combo cards. Three cheat on mana by proactively using the “free spell” mechanic to untap lands, often generating net mana or enabling infinite mana com combos. The last three? Storm cards.

 
If you've ever built the notorious Storm deck say in Modern, Legacy or the Vintage Cube, you know that the three ingredients are Rituals, Card Draw, and Storm cards. Pauper didn't have a way to reign in Storm as a strategy to we had to ban it. 

As a fair card, Dark Ritual is less effective than you think. Few fair strategies can afford a mulligan to take their turn 3 early. The only strategy I've ever played that made good use of Dark Ritual was a suicide black deck that hoped to spit out 6 power in one drops on turn one off the ritual. Late in the game it was a dead draw. Who's next?

 

Snuff Out

 

Free cards are in a category all their own. We've seen how the “free spell” mechanic from the Urza’s Saga block can be broken by untapping to generate more mana than the cost of the spell. The free spells from New Phyrexia had the added bonus of breaking the color pie to give certain minor staple effects to colors that shouldn't get them. There was also a powerful cycle of conditional free spells originating in MercadIan Masques and Nemesis which allowed the caster to pay an alternative cost instead of the mana cost should the alternate condition, usually having to do with the color pie, be met. Daze is the most famous of these free cards, once carrying a hefty 25 ticket price tag. But it's not the only one to see Pauper play. Ramosian Rally is a really neat trick for white weenie decks. And Reverent Silence is a cool alternative to Tranquility in green sideboards. But the one that seems the most raw powerful to me is Snuff Out, a card that sees close to zero play. Why would a free kill spell be so unfavored by black mages?

 

  1. It's not necessary. I mentioned previously that there are mostly three kinds of creatures in Pauper: Weenies (generally 1 CMC), must-kill two drops, and value creatures, whose bodies are much less important than their ETB effects. When killing weenies, efficiency is important, but there are many cards that can do the job. With the must kill two-drops, the focus is on having the right answer like Dead Weight for Atog or Flame Slash. While Snuff Out can save your butt in scenarios that you are tapped out, ultimately, it's a glorified Dark Banishing, a card that misses sometimes. Black has so many options for somewhat conditional kill spells at one or two mana that adding one more, even at “zero” mana isn't necessary.

  2. The life loss is too costly. Four life is a hefty price. This isn't Phyrexian mana where we can avoid the option of kicking ourselves for two by tossing in an extra mana. You're either on full retail 3B or you’re forking over 20% of your life total. Your choice. Against an aggro deck where every point of your life total matters that's a  grievous cost, the equivalent of letting their 2/2 hit you twice. I'm not sure if that's such a good deal or not.

  3. The requirement for a swamp is too restrictive to splash. There are a lot of colors that would love a free kill spell. Look how Gut Shot, for example has found its predominant home in mono-Green. But if I need to have enough swamps in play to be able to activate the alternative cost on Snuff Out then probably having access to kill spells isn't my biggest problem.
     

And now, a list of quick hits. Cards that all have the merits to see play but just can't find a home.

 

Mesmeric Fiend

I finally had this card played against me this week for the first time in 3 years. The opposing pilot played turn 1 Carrion Feeder into turn 2 Mesmeric Fiend then sacrificed the fiend for the +1/+1 counter with the exile triggers still on the stack. The result: a free Thoughtseize. Now this pilot was exploiting the wording on this card and cards like Oblivion Ring to ensure that my card was gone forever. But I think fiend is strong enough that it could see play even in a fair deck especially against combo decks that are often light on removal.

 

Tyrant's Choice

 

The deception of this card is that there's only actually one choice, but it's still a good one: you opponent losing four life for only two mana. That's the same rate we get on Flame Rift and it doesn't even hit you! Two color burn isn't really a thing, but it's something to know the most efficient two mana burn spell isn't actually in red but in black.

 

Jilt

 

I love modal cards. Choice is always better than no choice especially when the choices added don't come with extra premium. It amazes me that more blue red decks don't try out Jilt. It's a great tempo play and adds flexibility to a color play that usually has a hard time dealing with large, already in-play creatures.

 

Staggershock

 

I love the rebound mechanic , especially on a card like this where the rate of hitting two targets for two damage each is not only good value but good economy. You can use to take out two 2/2s. Or just one and hit your opponent for 2 like a Searing Blaze on layaway. But what really intrigues me is the possibility of getting two spell triggers out of this card for things like Firebrand Archer and prowess creatures.

 

Flame Jab Lava Dart

 

Both of these are great reusable effects. I think they're both better than Geistflame. Like Rebound I'm a sucker for retrace and flashback cards that offer us the opportunity to get two uses out of the same card. While most x/1s in our format are tokens, both of these cards could shine against Delver decks to snipe various faeries. Both give you extra spell triggers and late gate utility where an extra land either on board or in hand might otherwise be a dead resource.

 

Rhystic Study

 

Commander all-star. $5 common. Could it have a pauper home in a mana denial deck. We tried one last week with Blue Boomerang? What do you think?

 

Scion of the Wild

 

This guy got downgraded from rare all the way to common in Modern Masters 2015. I don't think it's particularly strong rare, being a more color intensive version of Crusader of Odric, but I mention it as our formats only */* creature.

 

Krosan Tusker

 

Another Commander card. This one has great split utility as a ramp spell or slightly overcosted fatty. If you cycle it, it could also be a cool Exhume target.

 

Avarax

 

Cut from the same mold as Squadron Hawk and Aurochs Herd all of them are buy-one-get-one-free creatures who trade a slight overcost for card advantage. The way you get a free copy back every time reminds me of the new recurs-to-hand mechanic we see on the three insect gods in Hour of Devastation. Maybe we should be calling then The Aurochs God and The Avarax God. 

 

 

Nimble Mongoose   

Legacy staple. Could he find a home in Pauper as an undercosted beater in a Blue / Green deck, maybe with Madness cards and Thought Scour?

 

Syphon Life

 

I like running this card as a sideboard answer to bun, but given enough resources in an attrition deck this could be a win condition itself.

 

Wakedancer

 

I wanted this card to work badly because the rate is so good, but if you are playing it relying on the morbid trigger of killing an opponent’s creature, it's a turn 4 or 5 play at best. Maybe it belongs in a black / green sacrifice deck alongside Nest Invader.

 

Aftershock

 

Mono-red doesn't get “Destroy target creature” so it's good to know this is out there even if it's expensive and comes with a life payment.

 

Gulf Squid

 

The missing link in Dimir Flicker or Dinrova Tron. In addition to bouncing permanents or denying them a draw step having a 1-of that taps all their lands could also be a cool effect to explore.

 

Predatory Nightstalker Ghitu Slinger

 

Pauper’s versions of Flametongue Kavu and Fleshbag Marauder. While costly, both could be great Flicker targets and the slinger can both voluntarily die for a morbid trigger and is cheap enough to come back via Unearth.

 

Man-o'-war

Both of these two seem blocked now by Capsize and Dinrova Horror. Is there a tempo deck though that wants them?

 

Field Surgeon

 

I mentioned this card in my last series when I was reviewing busted limited cards, and I'll add him here too especially since we’re low on white cards. Is this what white weenies or white tokens needs to survive removal?

 

Shared Discovery

 

Speaking of token decks, this looks like a one mana, sorcery speed Keep Watch.

 

Gaze of Justice

 

This plus Triplicate Spirits gives us a Pauper Swords to Plowshares. With flashback!

 

Falkenrath Noble

 

It amazes me that we haven't seen a fully fleshed black green aristocrats deck that can take advantage of this with all your at-will death triggers.

 

Shield Sphere

Once upon a time this was a key piece in a killer combo deck called “Fruity Pebbles”. If such a Pauper deck could form that cares about cast triggers or creatures coming into play, a zero mana creature could be pretty solid.

 

Gangrenous Zombies

 

Izzet Delver plays the snow-covered basics to power up Skred. Could a black control deck want this as like a Crypt Rats that avoids a separate activation cost. It also combos well with Ghoulraiser and Ghoulcaller's Chant and that anonymous “Zombie”, Nameless Inversion.

 

Orcish Lumberjack Tinder Wall

I already talked about the limitations of ritual effects and ramp spells, but these two creatures also can give pretty substantial mana bursts, if that is, you can find a worthwhile effect for 4-5 mana.

 

Eldrazi Devastator

 

If Ulamog's Crusher is our format’s Emrakul, The Aeons Torn, then Eldrazi Devastator is our format’s Autochthon Wurm. Won't somebody find a home for our beloved little 8/9 Trampler? I swear he doesn't eat much.

 

Mire's Malice

 

Tron decks can kind of play their pick of the litter so long as the cards aren't too taxing on the colored mana requirement. Why, just yesterday I had a Tron pilot play a Mournwhelk on me. Made me wonder if Mire's Malice could have a home.

 

Order Of The Ebon Hand

 

The two drop of choice for mono black devotion seems to be Cuombajj Witches for their ability to snipe weenies, especially against Delver. Should they ever fall out of favor or a black aggro deck arise, maybe these former Standard stars could find a home.

 

Acorn Harvest

 

Some decks love multi-token makers. Green gets Scatter The Seeds, red gets Kuldotha Rebirth and white is the only other color than can generate four tokens from a single card via Battle Screech. Could squirrels make a token appearance in a 5-0 League list? Somewhere Mark Rosewater is smiling.
 

That's my list of MIA Would-Be Pauper Stars?

 

What cards make your list? 

Keep having fun out there.

 

SteveJeltz

 

 

5 Comments

Great job SJ! You didn't by deluxeicoff at Mon, 07/31/2017 - 13:18
deluxeicoff's picture
5

Great job SJ! You didn't miss a thing :)

This is def one of the best by Arctic_Ghost at Mon, 07/31/2017 - 14:36
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5

This is def one of the best articles I have read in a good while, great job!!!!!!!!!

Get out there and brew, you by SteveJeltz at Mon, 07/31/2017 - 14:50
SteveJeltz's picture

Get out there and brew, you two! I'd love to see where you can find a home for these guys. I'm like the SPCA of Pauper.

Amazing article! by neckfire at Mon, 07/31/2017 - 21:42
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Amazing article!

David has been doing an by JXClaytor at Tue, 08/01/2017 - 08:52
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David has been doing an outstanding job and I appreciate his efforts!