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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Sep 15 2014 12:00pm
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I don’t remember exactly when I realized it, but a few days before Khans of Tarkir was fully spoiled I started to suspect that the set would have only the cycle of wedge creatures with Morph at common in the multicolor section. The use of Morph as a way to smooth mana in a multi-color set and the emphasis on learning from the mistakes of Shards of Alara help to flip the light bulb switch in my brain - in order for limited to work, gold cards would have to exist at higher rarities. It makes perfect sense.

It still sucks.

For a set that looks incredibly fun for draft and sealed and has some cards I just can’t wait to play (Grim Haruspex I am looking directly at you), I am having a hard time getting excited for the set’s potential impact on Pauper. The mechanics themselves are strong but for the sake of a healthy draft environment they can’t be pushed too hard on commons. For Pauper this means a lot of really cool cards that might see some fringe play but nothing as game changing as the last large set (Gray Merchant of Asphodel, I am now looking at you). There are, however, ten exceptions.

Can you guess what they are?

Surprise, they’re the lands. The common “Refuge” cycle does not represent a strict upgrade on the Return to Ravnica block Gates but Gatecreeper Vine aside they are pretty much just better. The Refuge set provides a much needed boost that might just change the Pauper landscape.

One of the defining attributes of Pauper is the mana available. Before the Gates it was nigh-impossible to have access to two colors of mana on turn one. After the Guild lands entered the card pool two color decks got more consistent but there was still a problem, and that was time. Even though there are slow plodding control decks in Pauper there are also lightning fast combo and aggro decks that can win as quickly as turn four. Using one full turn for better mana could be a death sentence when facing down a Nivix Cyclops or an Atog. The Refuges make this tempo hit slightly easier to take as the one life buffer, while small, may matter. It may not seem like much but the single hit point could have a wide-spread impact.

First off these lands make Burn a less reliable option. The Burn deck is incredibly adept at dealing 20 damage, but dealing more can be a challenge. If the refuges become popular  and are routinely adding a two or three point buffer then disciples of Patrick Sullivan might be in for a rude awakening. Alternatively these decks could adapt into  something resembling Red Deck Wins and feature Molten Rain. Remember- time invested in a tapped land is time not spent casting a removal spell.

The other aggressive decks in the format -from Affinity to White Weenie, are largely unaffected. These decks may get a hair better as they are quite capable of dealing more than 20 damage in a game and are often held in check by Burn. Equipment becomes more attractive in these decks as they can help force through the final few points when everyone is starting at above the critical hit.

Finally, two color decks do receive their boon. As mentioned before two color decks need time to set up and would often find themselves behind monochromatic mana bases. One life, while not a game changer, makes it so the two-color deck sees the punch coming and can soften the blow. Quite a few decks have been held back from being playable because they are unable to recover from setting up their mana base. Having access to the Refuges makes it so these decks can take a bigger risk in setting up their mid-game at the cost of turns one and two.

All of these changes are subtle but as I have said they can have broad implications. When half the field starts at 21 life then things change, ever so slightly. And this is nothing to say of the fact that decks can easily run ten “duals” if they so desire, regardless of risk. It took a while for the Gates to catch on, but I don’t think the Refuges will have that problem.

How about some individual cards that stand out? 

Ainok Bond-Kin is an option for White Weenie. A deck well positioned to block and take over a game with a swarm, the Bond-Kin is a stalemate breaker. It also can pull some neat tricks with Mosquito Guard and Burrenton Bombardier which may matter at some point. Finally a 3/2 first strike is nothing to sneeze at and a 4/3 can fight any non-Atog creature in the format and come out on top. I am not sure if I would run this over Shade of Trokair but I could see myself doing so if i wanted this effect. At the moment, I probably leave both on the sidelines. 

Disdainful Stroke fills me with hope that two color decks are viable. This card is great in an blue-x build as it stops quite a few of the formats game breakers: Fireblast, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Myr Enforcer, and Spire Golem. While terrible in a counter war I can absolutely see this card being a Mystical Teachings target or a sideboard bullet. The fact that it hits so many game breaking cards is huge (unlike Negate or Exclude). Definitely one to watch. 

Let me tell you about Force Away - I love this card. As a Simic Madness player I can think of very few other bounce spells I want, and here is why. First off, with access to Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, and Werebear it is very likely that this card will have the Ferocious Trigger be active which means that it gets to loot. In a deck with Madness. I know I will be trying this one out in my Thornwood Falls deck for many months to come. 

Treasure Cruise is exciting at any cost four or lower. In any deck where this can be routinely cast for three or less it can be a game breaker. While some decks make heavy use of spent cards with Grim Harvest and Flashback, others are okay investing in a card once and that is it. Treasure Cruise can be a late game refuel in control decks or an early game booster in any sort of graveyard centered strategy. 

Yes, I like Bitter Revelation. I very much believe that putting cards into the graveyard can approximate drawing them from your library, so Bitter Revelation reads “draw four” to me. In the right deck (one with Flashback or Grim Harvest) Bitter Revelation becomes far more powerful. As graveyard strategies get pushed (we’ve now had four straight blocks with some sort of discard pile focused theme) the power level of these cards goes up and up. Maybe it’s time I revisit Pilfered Plans with some Dismal Brackwater. 

Every time a new set comes out I want there to be the cards to make mono-black beatdown work. Mardu Skullhunter is another cog in that machine. These decks want a two power creature on turn two but also want to apply pressure to the hand. Mardu Skullhunter does that while also being the perfect size for Unearth. I do not know if it is enough, but if your opponent starts on Carnophage come November, you better figure out what card you want to pitch. 

Bloodfire Expert, and to a lesser extent Jeskai Windscout could be mono-colored options to come out of the sideboard in Nivix Cyclops decks. This is a stretch but it should be mentioned. 

I am a huge fan of Hooting Mandrills. While it should be obvious that this card can go into any Golgari style graveyard deck, it also has applications in Stompy. Stompy is a deck that often needs a mid-game breaker. If Stompy decks move towards Land Grant (which some have already done), then Hooting Mandrills becomes easier to cast and a force of reckoning. While it does not stack up favorably with Affinity, the Apes are pretty savage. 

Scout the Borders is another in a long line of green filter and draw spells. This one will almost always yield two cards but the others go to the graveyard, and you know where I am going with this. Tortured Existence decks may love having access to one or two of these. 

That’s where I stand today on Khans of Tarkir. The gold morphs do not seem strong enough to build a mana base around and the other cards are largely role-players. For the second time in two blocks the cards with the highest impact are likely to be lands. While Pauper needs good mana, it also needs potent effects.

What commons from Sarkhan Vol’s homeworld pique your interest? 

Khans of Tarkir Pick Up List
4 of each Refuge
4 Ainok Bond-Kin
4 Disdainful Stroke
4 Force Away
2 Treasure Cruise
4 Bitter Revelation
4 Mardu Skullhunter
4 Hooting Mandrills
4 Scout the Borders 

Keep slingin’ commons-
-Alex

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