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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Sep 21 2015 12:00pm
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Zendikar represented an  important time in Pauper. It was released in close proximity to the sanctioning of the format. The Zendikar block also provided  key cards - Goblin Bushwhacker, Kor Skyfisher, Disfigure, Kiln Fiend, Flame Slash - that see play to this day. A return to the plane is exciting but things have changed. Gone is the hyper aggressive slant of Landfall and the slow build up of (Ulamog’s Crusher). Instead, Battle for Zendikar provides a wide array of options for Pauper. There are very few cards that stand up and shout “build around me!” Battle for Zendikar is not a set with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel but rather one filled to the brim with potential tools. The full spoiler for Battle of Zendikar can be found here. Let’s start by looking at some existing strategies.

Esper Combo is currently sitting at the top of the format. The deck is a relatively tight design, focused entirely on finding its game winning suite of cards. To that end it runs some of the more powerful card draw spells available in Compulsive Research and Foresee. When combined with Nightscape Familiar and Sunscape Familiar these cards can be as cheap as a single blue mana. The only card that may find its way into these decks is Brilliant Spectrum. Having another draw three for what may we be three mana is attractive even if it automatically discards two. I am doubtful this card will see play in Esper, however, due to the fact that with the aforementioned Familiars Brilliant Spectrum may often end up costing so little that the Converge ability will only let one or two colors be used for payment.
The Simic Combo deck, on the other hand, seems poised to get two solid additions. Brilliant Spectrum may end up being a draw four discard two spell there thanks to Fertile Ground. Simic Combo is not as popular as its Esper cousin but is no less powerful. Brilliant Spectrum provides a solid option for card selection.
Simic Combo may also benefit from Volcanic Upheaval. The four mana instant speed Stone Rain can be a killer sideboard card against Esper Combo and that deck’s reliance on Azorius Chancery and Dimir Aqueduct AND in the mirror against Forests loaded with copies of Utopia Sprawl. Again this increases the deck’s reliance on Fertile Ground but it provides an instant speed option to fight similar decks. Is this better than Thermokarst? Probably not, but it is absolutely worth a look.
Delver occupies an interesting space when looking at new sets. The threshold for blue cards to make the cut is incredibly high because of how strong older options are. At the same time the fact that Delver is a flexible deck means that more potential blue cards can see play in different flavors of the deck.
Clutch of Currents and Rush of Ice are fascinating cards to consider for Delver decks. Both are tempo cards that take care of a creature for one to two turns at sorcery speed. They do not compare to cards like Snap or Vapor Snag on speed. However they are both “creatures” that turn on Delver of Secrets. As someone who has flipped Delver with Battle Screech I can attest to how awesome it feels to flip the one drop with a threat.
Rush of Ice shines in pure race situations. Against a Gurmag Angler or Ulamog’s Crusher (or potentially an Eldrazi Devastator) the ability to buy two attack phases is not worth a scoff. For a single mana the rate is hard to beat. Now the ability for it to come with a six-mana 3/3 haste creature (five mana for Awaken and a sixth land for the counters) and now a one mana spell has some late game implications. Rush of Ice is also great at buying time against Nivix Cyclops and Kiln Fiend and the fact it is a sorcery means I would not be surprised to see it receive a look in Izzet Blitz decks as well.
Clutch of Currents is a slow Unsummon. Delver has use for spells of this nature to help turn the tide on opposing investments. At the same time drawing such a spell later on can be less than ideal since the opponent will often not be nearly as choked on mana. Clutch of Currents makes it so the unsummon comes with a 3/3 creature and acts as flood insurance - six lands never looked so good. One of the ways Delver can lose is when its smaller impact spells find their way to the midgame. Clutch of Currents helps to mitigate that by providing flexibility. It is a pure tempo play early but has the option to do so much more late.
Salvage Drone may not seem like much. It has no evasion and does not do anything to actually make Delver better. However there are times when these decks want additional one drops. Faerie Miscreant, Phantasmal Bear, and Cloudfin Raptor have filled this role before. Salvage Drone has the upside of being able to loot upon death. Trading favorably with a removal spell is an ability that should not be discounted.
Skyline Cascade is a free tempo play in that it does not cost a spell slot. Some decks have adopted Quicksand as a way to step assaults. The Cascade does not deter attacks the same way as Quicksand and does not lock down a creature a la Rush of Ice. Instead it simply taps for a blue and can be rebought with Deprive. Considering that Deprive is often the fifth copy of Counterspell it is not unreasonable to expect to use the same Skyline Cascade multiple times. If Delver can afford to take one hit from a Gurmag Angler Cascade becomes a way to lock down the zombie fish until a Clutch of Currents can be found.
Eldrazi Skyspawner fits a similar role as Stormbound Geist in that it creates bodies to absorb Chainer's Edict style effects. Aside from color there are a few big differences. First is that both creatures come into play at the same time making it far more difficult for Diabolic Edict to matter. The token does have the upside of generating mana which, in a blue deck, is never a bad thing. It also provides three power all at once (that can block anything) as opposed to five power split by a removal spell. Eldrazi Skyspawner is also better against Magma Spray and other effects that exile. As we will touch on later, it also is quite nice with Cloudfin Raptor. I think Eldrazi Skyspawner will find a home as a way to fight removal heavy decks.
Finally there’s Spell Shrivel. Convolute sees no play but Convolute is blue. Pyroblast cannot stop Spell Shrivel. Since many red decks rely on Pyroblast as a way to fight Delver (and other blue decks) to resolve their key spells. Spell Shrivel puts a stop to that. It also may occasionally exile a spell which has upside. I would not be surprised to see Spell Shrivel find a home in sideboards or maindecks, but it is more likely to be found in Mystical Teachings based builds.

Speaking of Teachings,the deck gets access to two new pieces of removal. Scour from Existance and Complete Disregard both are poised to shine in the tutor based strategy. Neither of these cards are cheap enough to eat up three or four slots in a maindeck. They are both specialized removal spells that have a specific role. In this way they are perfect for a Teachings deck where they can be fetched for the proper moment.
 

Mono-Black Control is always on the lookout for good disruptive creatures, card draw, and solid removal. Battle for Zendikar has none of these. The best option is Complete Disregard which is a sideboard card at best. But holy heck is it great there. While Unmake exists and has always been a way for MBC to exile creatures it has fallen short against occasional sideboard all-stars Obsidian Acolyte and Order of Leitbur. Complete Disregard handles these while also working wonders against Stormbound Geist and Loyal Cathar.
Mono-Black Control also gets access to Mortuary Mire. The land may not be as high impact as Bojuka Bog but it does act as a free Reclaim for creatures. In longer games it can help to ensure that the gas flows - more copies of Chittering Rats is a good thing. Mortuary Mire provides the ability to outlast removal as the game goes long which does happen in the grindier matchups. The Mire is sure to find a home in graveyard based decks as well.
 

The premier fair aggressive deck in Pauper is Stompy. The mono-green deck leans on cheap creatures and power boosting effects. While the best creature in green appears to be Snapping Gnarlid, this beast does not fit into Stompy even with the presence of Quirion Ranger. A 3/3 at best it is outclassed by Garruk's Companion in most ways."
The two cards that catch my eye for Stompy are Swell of Growth and Blisterpod. Swell is a new sort of pump spell. The +2/+2 bonus is usually reserved for spells that help to protect creatures from removal spells - Mutagenic Growth and Gather Courage. These two spells also have the benefit of costing effectively zero mana. Swell of Growth is not a defensive card but it does have the bonus of putting a land from your hand into play untapped. Consider that many of Stompy’s kills come from Landfall fueled Groundswells. In conjunction with Quirion Ranger Swell of Growth represents six damage for three mana. In all likelihood this is too cute to actually matter. It does present an interesting angle of attack and potential combo kill element.
Blisterpod fills a similar role of Young Wolf and Nest Invaders the help to mitigate removal. Young Wolf is three power across two turns while Blisterpod is two power in the same time frame. The difference, again, is the ability to sacrifice the Scion token for a mana. Stompy decks sometimes make use of Hunger of the Howlpack and the ability to turn on Morbid at will is powerful. The question then becomes which is better - two power on two 1/1 bodies or on a 2/2. Likely this will be metagame dependent but I think Blisterpod is slightly worse than Nest Invader at the moment.
 

At first glance Affinity does not get anything obvious from Battle for Zendikar. I had to peer over the spoiler a few times before I realized that Kozilek’s Sentinel is a potential inclusion. Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Springleaf Drum - these are all colorless spells. At 1R the price is right for a card that can both blunt the assault and deal a decent amount of damage in the midgame. That being said I doubt it supplants Atog or Carapace Forger anytime soon. There is potential for an Affinity build with both Sentinel and Glaze Fiend but the chances of it taking over as the mainline build are slim.

Goblins, the little red deck that could, gets a decent sideboard card in Lavastep Raider. Goblins is highly vulnerable to Electrickery and its ilk and the ability to have a card that not only dodges those spells but also can become a mana sink that advances the main game plan...well it certainly isn’t bad.

Hexproof gets in on the game as well. Angelic Gift is the kind of card that the Aura based deck loves - a cantrip. Favor of the Overbeing is a card that sees some play due to its ability to turn (Slipery Bogle) into a mini-angel. Angelic Gift grants flying but no vigilance. The velocity on this new card may be enough for it to get some tryouts.

Cliffslide Lookout reminds me of Selfless Cathar. An aggressive creature that doubles as an anthem for token strategies, the Lookout is a perfect card for Raise the Alarm and Battle Screech decks. It comes down early and acts as a mana sink late. Unlike other anthems - (Guardian’s Pledge) and others - it isn’t worthless on turn one. I am not sure this is enough to propel tokens back into the winner’s circle, but it may help.
 

Finally we come to the other big winner - Tron. In a set full of expensive spells we can expect Tron to come out ahead. First there is Eldrazi Devastator. The Annihilator on Ulamog’s Crusher is a backbreaking ability but the Devastator has some real advantages that must be considered. First it has 9 toughness. Flame Slash may be out of favor at the moment but it is still a card that sees play. Two copies can take down a Crusher; not so with a Devastator. Devastator also laughs at chump blockers. Eventually Crusher will render speed bumps useless but sometimes one turn is all the defender needs in order to crack back and Devastator makes that a tougher task. Finally, Eldrazi Devastator does not have to attack and it is a fearsome blocker. I do not think that the new card is strictly better but it does merit a look. I would not be surprised to see Tron shift back to Fierce Empath and run one of each. Tron is also a deck setup to cast Scour from Existence. Finally, the deck can also take advantage of Ruin Processor provided it is willing to make its removal suite work. Seven mana for a 7/8 with five extra life is not bad at all. Considering that Gurmag Angler is everywhere, five life will probably happen with some regularity.
 

That concludes the discussion of established decks. For the known quantities Battle for Zendikar provides plenty of options. But what does it do for decks that are not quite competitive?

Whenever a new set comes out I immediately look at the two-color themes for draft. Doing this helps me to understand what new tools a set may provide. In Battle for Zendikar the color pairs appear to break down along the following lines:

  • WU - Awaken synergies

  • UB - Eldrazi processors

  • BR - Colorless beatdown

  • RG - Landfall ramp and aggro

  • GW - Go-wide/Allies

  • WB - Life gain

  • UR - Colorless matters

  • BG - Sacrifice tokens
  • RW - Allies/Rally
  • GU - Converge

From here I start to eliminate strategies focused at higher rarities or ones that may not have enough support in Pauper. This removes the WU, UB, BR, UR, WB, RW, and GU strategies. While Allies may be a supported creature type I’m unsure there are enough to make a competitive Pauper deck. Similarly there are a number of good colorless cards in the format, but not enough to make a dent. While there are some decent processors at common, the only one that piques my interest is Oracle of Dust.

So that leaves the following potential new strategies:

  • RG - Landfall ramp and aggro
  • GW - Go-wide/Allies

     

    BG - Sacrifice tokens

     

 

We can work with this.

The Eldrazi love their Scion and it shows. While the cards that make the most out of this are focused in black and green I think the color that gets the most out of the tokens is blue. As mentioned Cloudfin Raptor interacts favorably with Eldrazi Skyspawner. The bird mutant also works nicely with Incubator Drone. These new cards make it so that it at least becomes reasonable to debate the merits of Delver of Secrets against the newer flyer. The ability to generate tokens also makes (Sidisi’s Faithful) more attractive pushing in the direction of a very aggressive blue deck. Cloudfin Raptor aggro could be a force in the future but I am not sure it will be enough to dethrone Delver.
Green gets access to Call the Scions and Eyeless Watcher. Combined with Scatter the Seeds, Nest Invader, and an encyclopedia of token producers, Green Tokens could be a deck on the precipice. While Magnify is not the best anthem, Strength in Numbers and Might of the Masses gives the deck some potential. Sprout Swarm also helps the deck go long.
Makindi Sliderunner and Snapping Gnarlid are both two drops that love Evolving Wilds. Landfall decks have never really picked up in Pauper but the addition of these two cards may provide it with a bump. With access to Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, and Naya Panorama, the new duo, along with Valakut Predator and Plated Geopede may have enough ammunition to finally be a contender. The deck can also run Invasive Species as a way to get two uses out of any given land. Fertile Thicketprovides the ability to run two colors while also stringing land drops together. Fertile Thicket will likely have applications above and beyond this one deck as it helps non-blue decks sculpt draws. The new land will have huge deck building implications moving forward and if the format slows down could become a major player.
Voracious Null may be my favorite card in the set as it is exactly the kind of creature I want in many decks. It is slower than Carrion Feeder but it is able to block. However given time it can present a large threat. While it may not be enough to make my preferred playstyle viable, it is another arrow in the quiver.
Wrapping it up, here are other cards that pinged my radar for potential:

Lithomancer’s Focus - white is now getting smaller pump spells

Sheer Drop - Shriekmaw is hard to ignore

Mire’s Malice - I like Mournwhelk a little too much

Sludge Crawler - an aggressive black one drop that has utility later

Boiling Earth - not as good as Electrickery, but coming with a 4/4 late may matter

Touch of the Void - a slower Ghostfire that exiles

Earthen Arms - six hasted power for 6G is a hefty cost, but if a ramp deck emerges

Natural Connection - something we haven’t seen before

Battle for Zendikar is quite the set. The exploration of old and new themes means that Pauper is likely to feel its influence. I’d be surprised if we don’t see these new cards almost immediately.
What do you think of Battle for Zendikar? Think I missed anything? Let me know.

Keep slingin’ commons-
-Alex

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2 Comments

Good observations - but good by deluxeicoff at Mon, 09/21/2015 - 12:33
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2

Good observations - but good grief - clicking on every card/back & forth...would it kill you to embed the image to prevent readers from getting carpal tunnel syndrome! ;) This article reads like a 'right-clicking workout.'

Sometimes when I'm building by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 09/22/2015 - 18:57
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Sometimes when I'm building decks, there's a four-of card that I'd really love a fifth or sixth of, and the new common eldrazi could fill that niche for Tron and Reanimator.

I used to love tron in Modern, I think I'm going to have to build a pauper tron deck, it looks so awesome to be perfectly honest.

This is such a great format, and I think more people should take a look. There are a lot more powerful interactions with only commons than people might think! That's what keeps me interested in the format. I mean, there are pauper-playable cards banned in Modern (preordain), so that's pretty cool.