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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Jul 06 2017 12:00pm
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Commons in a New World Order


Last week I reviewed five formats who limited environments were severely skewed by the presence of overwhelmingly powerful commons.


What many of these commons had in common was that they broke the rules of what R & D calls “New World Order” - a structured attempt to rein in the complexity of limited play by setting limits on what kinds of cards are printed at common. NWO Offenders are cards that dramatically increase board complexity such as Prodigal Sorcerer or Samite Healer. Now imagine playing with more repeatable, scalable versions of these two effects and you see the problems created by Field Surgeon or Sparksmith. X-Spells, especially those with multiple choice targets fall into the red flag area of New World Order.  And as we saw with cards like Pestilence, repeatable effects present the same problems.


Since the establishment of New World Order, the most egregious examples of these cards have disappeared. Removal spells might be more efficient at times than others, but they still trade card for card. Instead the most glaring examples of developmental misses are in new card types before they can be understood and balanced for play.


  1. Fifth Dawn


Cranial Plating


Mirrodin featured the new artifact subtype “Equipment”. And from the start it was obvious that not all equipment was well balanced. Contrast the simple Leonin Scimitar with the more oppressive Bonesplitter and Vulshok Morningstar. If +1 / +1 for 1 CMC, 1 cost to equip artifact is fair, I could see how scaling to 2 for all costs and effects would seem fair. Except that play shows that +2/+2 granted from a single card is inherently much more powerful than +1/+1, such that Cultist's Staff is a more fairly costed card. Bonesplitter showed how much more powerful power boosting is than adding equivalent square stats.


But what all these Mirrodin equipment cards also added was the inherent play value of cheap artifacts in a heavy artifact synergy environment. It was not unusual in a Mirrodin draft for 10-20 cards in your deck to be artifacts! The flexibility of a deck with so many colorless cards and light colored mana requirements meant than many decks looked the same: play all the colors, equipment, cogs, artifact creatures and let the synergy do its thing.


In this context you can see the oppressive power a card that acted like a Bonesplitter but counted your artifacts could be. To make it even more powerful, the instant speed double black mana activation on Cranial Plating was not hard to achieve in a light color requirement deck.


Today, Cranial Plating earns the distinction of being one of the few non-combo cards that has needed to be banned out of Pauper. With Plating in play, the Affinity player could threaten that any unblocked attacker could represent lethal damage, not just the Atog. And frankly, good riddance that it's gone!


2. Future Sight

Sprout Swarm


Time Spiral block was a celebration of Magic’s past featuring long forgotten mechanics like flanking, cleaned up mechanics like Vanishing and color shifted specials like Damnation.


But rather than call back to Magic’s greatest hits or an alternative color pie, the last set in the block looked ahead to future possibilities including forecasting the debut of Planeswalkers, previewing future set mechanics like Delve and a few mechanics that were so screwy they were never intended to see the light of future print. Wizardcycling? Gravestorm? At least someone called Aaron Forsythe’s bluff on Steamflogger Boss ensuring us a one day future world with contraptions to rig.


But the most busted thing to come out of Time Spiral block at common was a harmless little common instant that made a 1/1 saproling token for 1G. And yet by stapling on two less innocuous, highly synergistic mechanics in Convoke and Buyback they created a one-card win condition that could splashably fit in any deck.


Oh, Sprout Swarm. Will you ever cease to share your little green love?


Today in Pauper Sprout Swarm serves as the win condition in two fringe decks: “Snow-Go”, a deck that utilizes 38 instants to maximize the glacial reactivity of the deck’s design, and Green-Red tokens, a deck that creates an arbitrarily large amount of tokens by employing creatures that untap every time an appropriate spell is cast: Nettle Sentinel and Thermo-Alchemist.


I have faith that through the raw power of the buyback mechanic, Sprout Swarm will continue to find deck homes in Pauper for years to come.


And if you ever find yourself Tarmogoyf hunting in a Time Spiral block draft, take that pack 3 pick 1 Sprout Swarm, regardless of your colors. Ten Saprolings later you'll be glad you did.



3. Lorwyn



I honestly can't believe this card exists, especially at common. It has been reprinted as an uncommon wherever else it has seen play, including Legacy Cube draft where it is a high pick.


As a way to push the evoke mechanic, Lorwyn gave us some very powerful cards that were generously costed for their evoke effect and then had the added flexibility of being able to be played as a creature. Look at cards like Ingot Chewer: this is a Legacy staple for its ability to take out a Chalice of the Void set at 1. On its own, paying R to destroy an artifact at sorcery speed is still a good rate. Comparable cards are Smelt and Shattering Spree. But it also  has the added flexibility of paying the full retail to come into play with an additional 3/3 body.


Now eating artifacts tend to be a niche effect in limited formats. But who doesn't love drawing cards? Divination is a highly playable limited card in nearly every set it's seen print. And that’s just the baseline effect we see for the evoke cost of 2U. For the full retail you get a built-in draw three on par with Harmonize or Concentrate except that your third card drawn is a prepaid 2/2 flier. Add in the possibility of Ghostly Flicker effects and the value of built-in rate utility and you can see why many consider Mulldrifter to be the single most powerful card in all of Pauper.


Today, Mulldrifter sees the majority of it play in two decks: Tron and Dimir Flicker. But if we encapsulated the history of the Pauper format, one would quickly observe that Mulldrifter becomes the go-to incentive to play any Midrange style deck. From Jeskai Midrange to Peregrine Drake to Cloudpost decks of yore, Mulldrifter was always the default way to get ahead on cards at a relevant cost with the added bonus of a win condition attached.


4. Magic 2015

Triplicate Spirits


I mentioned New World Order in the introduction to this week’s article as kind of compliment to Magic’s Design and Development teams because honestly, they're getting a lot more right these days than ever before. Limited is more balanced, board complexities are grokable, and there just aren't the level of egregious offenders printed at common today than there were in yesteryear.


Yet even in a NWO limited environment, there are still formats that suffer because of imbalance, especially skewed by the powerful strategy of one color’s commons. Magic 2015 was one of those formats. Simply put, drafters immediately solved the format that the white token strategy was the most powerful thing you could be doing, especially with all of its relevant cards printed at common. Curving Selfless Cathar into Raise the Alarm into Triplicate Spirits was the most powerful thing you could be doing in any combination of colors regardless of your 2nd color. And because the convoke mechanic could pay for the colored or generic portion of a spell’s mana cost, a payoff card like Triplicate Spirits was neither as expensive or color intensive to cast as the full retail of the card would suggest.


Today white token strategies represent a viable fringe strategy in the Pauper metagame.  Some are more Aggro skewed with payoff cards like (Guardians Pledge) and Rally the Peasants. Many contain a hefty life gain package similar to the Soul Sisters decks one occasionally sees in Modern, pairing BFFs Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant with occasion triple play from the honorary third soul sister Suture Priest. And recently, white token decks have hybridized into a two and three color Midrange build with the possibility of the combo package of Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond. Yes, your infinity saprolings don't have the added bonus of haste like Splinter Twin decks could offer, but infinity creatures plus infinity life gain is usually a pretty good way to win provided you can manage you MTGO clock accordingly.


In the meanwhile, I don't blame you if you happen to skip Magic 2015 flashback drafts. Hot Soup coming through!!!



5. Kaladesh


This card is more of a pet peeve than a home wrecker. Honestly, Mulldrifter and Rolling Thunder are miles more egregious that The Pain Train. And Kaladesh was a pretty fun format overall that had room for fast and slow decks.


My bone with Renegade Freighter is that like in Mirrodin when they debuted equipment, because they hadn't quite solved balance issues around power level yet, you end up with the problem that a colorless card is the best common for a variety of decks. It's not healthy for the format when the best red common, green common, white common and black common are all Renegade Freighter. Never mind that the best blue common was also an artifact in Prophetic Prism.


I can excuse when there is a powerful colorless bomb in a set that can slot into any deck like Steel Hellkite. But draft strategies shouldn't overlap so much that you choose the same common first and then figure out which of the five colors you are.


As for Pauper play, The Pain Train can be a nice addition to hyper Aggro strategies as a curve topper since those late game 2/2s don't do nearly as much on their own Turn 7 as they do Turn 1. Decks like Cyborg  aka White Metalcraft and Suicide Black both are great homes for the vehicle.



Did you like this series? Let me know in the comments below. It's great to see our format get some much needed press here on


Keep having fun out there.