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By: gwyned, gwyned
Feb 08 2016 1:00pm
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I. Introduction

If you're at all familiar with the Standard Pauper format, you probably already know that back in November Wizards of the Coast made the decision to retire the Standard Pauper filter on Magic Online. Although several concerned players (including myself) made the argument that this was a poor decision, our efforts to the contrary were in vain, and thus for the foreseeable future Standard Pauper is once again unsupported on Magic Online. As a result, the community once again is solely responsible for deciding what is and what is not legal in the format. And this is complicated by the fact that a discrepancy exists with both the official Gatherer card database and the online client in how they display cards when you search for both "Standard" and "Common." In both cases, the database returns cards that were printed at Common in prior sets but existed in the current Standard at other rarities, thus giving the impression that they are Standard Pauper legal. In the past, this was a common source of confusion among new players, who didn't understand why these cards appeared to be legal according to the client but were excluded from the Standard Pauper Player Run Events. 

Which leads us to this new opportunity. The community of regular Standard Pauper players has been discussing whether or not these type of cards should, in fact, actually be included as part of the format. The general consensus has been quite positive, although some players have certainly expressed concern about the potential for these cards to be much better than the current set of Commons in Standard. As a result, we recently made the decision to take this next season of both our Sunday and Monday Player Run Events and make these cards legal for both tournaments.

So today, I thought I would take a look at the thirteen cards that fall into this category and evaluate their overall strength and what their effect in the format will be moving forward. Obviously, this can only be a cursory examination, especially given the fact that we haven't even yet seen how the cards from Oath of the Gatewatch will shape the current metagame. Nonetheless, as players begin brewing for this experimental season, I thought it was worth the time to take a look at these cards.

Additionally, it also gives me the chance to test out my new rating system. In my previous set review, I received some criticism that I was putting too many cards in the 'borderline' category, which essentially was a catch-all between a card being 'very good' and being 'almost unplayable.' As was suggested to me on Twitter, I propose two new categories: "bunts", which are cards that are playable but not great; and "grounders," which are cards that are well worth playing in at least one archetype but aren't good enough to be worth building a deck around. "Hits," then, are those cards that are so good that they could define an entire archetype or at least should always be included if you're playing that color, while "myth" designates those cards that should (almost) never be played. I hope you find this new rating system helpful as we welcome back these thirteen cards into the Standard Pauper format.

II. The 13 Newly Legal Cards

1. Arc Lightning is quite similar to Touch of the Void in a lot of game scenarios, as both are Sorcery speed 3 damage burn spells. The most important difference, obviously, is the ability of Arc Lightning to affect multiple targets. This flexibility is certainly worth something. It can be a virtual Barrage of Boulders, dealing 1 damage to 3 creatures. But it is probably most useful as an extra powerful Twin Bolt, trading in Instant speed and costing an additional generic mana, but allowing you to deal an extra point of damage along the way. It is this last scenario that keeps this card from being reprinted at Common, since this can reliably generate a two-for-one against your opponent. Still, being limited to only 3 damage makes this good but certainly not overpowered.

Verdict: Grounder - This is certainly arcing on a strong trajectory, but better cards await.
 

2. Cruel Revival is a slightly cheaper combination of Flesh to Dust and Disentomb. Instant speed removal is always a plus, and in this case it's even easier to cast with only one colored mana symbol, but the card's inability to return non-Zombie creatures is a pretty big strike against it. While there are a fair number of Zombies in the format, only Gurmag Angler is consistently played, which certainly limits this cards effectiveness. Where this card might see play is in a Black-based Control deck that expects the game to go long enough to be able to play expensive removal such as this and have time to get value out of returning a Zombie creature back to hand. So while this is definitely a value play, it's pretty narrow in scope.

Verdict: Bunt - It would be a cruel world if this was the best removal that Black had access to.


3. Black gets yet another Instant speed removal spell in Death Wind, this one reprinted from the more recent Avacyn Restored. While you will often pay more to kill the targeted creature than your opponent paid to cast it, if you consider that the average creature at Common has 2 or 3 Toughness, you're still getting a three or four mana Instant speed removal spell most of the time, which is pretty good value. It also scales well with the length of the game, giving you the flexibility of eventually dealing with whatever size creature your opponent throws at you. It also sidesteps Regeneration effects, which is certainly worth remembering. Think of this as Tar Snare with upside, and you've got a pretty good sense of its effectiveness.

Verdict: Grounder - It wouldn't be the death of the format if this winds up back at Common in the future.


4. One could be forgiven for mistaking Fiery Conclusion for Collateral Damage from Fate Reforged, as the two cards are quite similar. For your additional single point of generic mana, you get the ability to deal 5 points of damage instead of 3, but lose out on the option of targeting a player instead. In a format where we can easily generate tokens from Dragon Fodder, cards like Sandsteppe Outcast, and Eldrazi Scions, it shouldn't be too hard to find a cheap sacrifice outlet to fuel this card. Honestly though, you're still giving up a card and at least part of another to deal with a single creature, which puts you at least a little behind on the exchange. Most of the time, you'd be better off just sticking with Fiery Impulse.

Verdict: Bunt - My conclusion is that Collateral Damage just might actually be better.


5. Grasp of Darkness harkens back to a time when Black and Red got cheap, Instant speed removal at Common. Although the double Black casting cost limits how easy it is to play in multicolor decks, I don't think it's hyperbole to call this the best Black removal spell in the upcoming metagame. The closest comparison is Flatten, which costs twice as much mana for the same effect, which in itself was a big improvement on Throttle at 4B. This card single-handedly makes Black a big contender in the format once again, and renders creature Auras and pump spells a much riskier move against any opponent that has access to double Black. In fact, this is good enough that it probably pushes even Death Wind out of most decks.

Verdict: Hit - You're in the dark if you don't grasp how good this card is.


6. Knightly Valor was a Common as recently as Return to Ravnica, where it served as an expensive but viable option in support of the 'Enchantments-matter' theme that came about in Theros block. Although expensive at 4W, you're getting 4 Power and Toughness worth of stats from it as well as giving both creatures Vigilance, which is actually a relatively good deal. This also has the potential to synergize well with Shoulder to Shoulder or the other Support cards, giving you an additional target to pump up. Additionally, this certainly becomes one of the better targets to search up with Totem-Guide Hartebeest. On the other hand, it is an Aura, and a costly one at that, and comes with all the associated risks of such a card.

Verdict: Grounder - I valiantly predict this will see some play.


7. Back before New World Order, it wasn't unusual for Green to get creatures that searched up a basic Land into your hand when they entered the battlefield at Common. Pilgrim's Eye is an interesting variation from the original Zendikar block. Usually a 1/1 Flyer isn't good enough for Standard Pauper, especially one that costs 3, but the fact that it also fixes your mana makes this a lot more reasonable, especially if you need access to multiple colors. With this now in the format, it joins Evolving Wilds as another way to search up a lone Wastes in your deck to activate colorless costs. As long as we continue to have access to dual-lands at Common, the need for this is small, but a color-intensive deck might consider including this.

Verdict: Bunt - Value, like beauty, is perhaps in the eye of the beholder.


8. Pyrotechnics is the next step up from Arc Lightning. It scales up to 4 damage, but costs two additional mana for only 1 additional damage. However, there is a world of difference between splitting up three damage however you like and splitting up four. In Standard Pauper, it should be routine to get a 2-for-1 with this, since so many creatures only have 2 Toughness. In a pinch, it can even act as a slightly weaker Lava Axe, although you'd never want to make that play unless it was enough to actually kill your opponent. If you're playing Aggro, this is probably too slow; but in any sort of Midrange or Control deck with access to Red, you should probably be playing this card.

Verdict: Hit - This isn't all smoke and mirrors; it's the real deal.


9. We have yet a third Red damage spell in Rolling Thunder, and I think it's fair to say that we saved the best for last. Assuming you can generate lots of mana, the potential value of this card is off the charts. When X is only three or four, you're obviously much better off with the more efficient Arc Lightning or Pyrotechnics. But as you get access to more and more mana, it is well within its range to generate a three-for-one or simply finish off an opponent still at a very reasonable Life total. The problem, of course, is surviving long enough to have access to that many mana sources. You'll probably need to rely on Green mana ramp plus the colorless mana generation from cards like Kozilek's Channeler to get there. But when you do, this is devastating.

Verdict: Hit - This card alone might be a good argument to roll back to the previous legality rules.


10. Runed Servitor has consistently been printed as an Uncommon (save in the online-only Modern Masters 2015), but I've never really understood why. A 2/2 for 2 generic mana with a secondary ability is better than you'd expect from an Artifact creature, but given how often you see those exact stats in Green and White at Common, that's hardly unbalancing. And when it dies, both players get to draw a card, which while interesting is about as fair a drawback as you would ever see in Magic. If you're playing a very aggressive deck, you might be able to get more value out of your card than your opponent, but again it's not really like this card gives you much incentive to want to play this. It's a strange card, and not one I find particularly good.

Verdict: Bunt - Run this, and I'm not sure who you're really serving.


11. Sigiled Starfish is our most recent Common, first printed in Journey into Nyx before returning in Magic Origins at Uncommon. A 0/3 for 1U is pretty poor, but it's the ability to Scry 1 every turn that makes this worth considering in Blue-based Control decks. Generally speaking, scrying two cards is about the same as drawing a card, so if you can consistently use this to block a weak attacker and afterwards tap it, you're generating a fair amount of value pretty quickly. Of course, it's trivial for your opponent to remove this, particularly if you're using it to block. But even if you only get to activate it 2 or 3 times and save yourself a few points of damage, you've gotten a pretty decent return on your investment.

Verdict: Grounder - This won't be the star of your deck, but it's not a bad catch.


12. It takes an Artifact set like Scars of Mirrodin block for the design team to allow almost any Equipment at Common, which explains why Strider Harness was just reprinted at Uncommon. Paying 3 mana to get this onto the battlefield is a big cost, especially given that it only boosts Power and Toughness by one point each. Where this gets interesting, however, is in its ability to let every subsequent creature come into play with Haste for only an additional generic mana. While too slow for an aggressive deck and too weak for Control, the right sort of Midrange deck might be able to find the sweet spot to take real advantage of that ability in putting a lot of pressure on your opponent each and every turn. Of course, that's a pretty narrow range of usefulness.

Verdict: Bunt - You have to go to great strides to harness this card's potential. I doubt it's usually worth it.


13. Totem-Guide Hartebeest is the original Heliod's Pilgrim, giving you an additional point of Power and 3 more Toughness for your 2 additional generic mana. Obviously this is less good now than it would have been back during Theros block, but in White alone there are several decent Auras to fetch, including Grasp of the Hieromancer, Knightly Valor, and Pacifism. The biggest strike against this is its cost, since most White or Boros decks don't want anything to do with a five mana creature. But this might find a slot in a more Control oriented Orzhov build, where you maximize the number of Auras you can fetch while relying on your defensive creatures to grind out a win. Outside of that particular deck though, I'm not sure this has a good fit in the metagame.

Verdict: Grounder - It will be harte to guide you to where this card will be at its beest.
 

III. Conclusion

Overall, the effect of adding these cards to the Standard Pauper metagame seems pretty mixed. Red and Black clearly make big gains, although Pyrotechnics and Rolling Thunder don't seem particularly well suited for either the aggressive Rakdos or midrange Izzet Prowess decks. White gets two solid cards in Knightly Valor and Totem-Guide Hartebeest, but again they don't slot easily into your typical White aggressive archetypes. Blue gets a decent new option with Sigiled Starfish, but Green doesn't really make any gains (save perhaps for finally having a powerful enough spell in Rolling Thunder to be worth a dedicated mana-ramp strategy). And the Colorless options certainly won't make any major impact either. At least at this early stage, I would venture that while these cards should make the format more interesting, I don't see anything here that will warp the format in a broken or undesirable way. Time will tell.

In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 7:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room. See you next time!

2 Comments

I hope mpdc goes well. As for by JMason at Mon, 02/08/2016 - 15:24
JMason's picture

I hope mpdc goes well.
As for the ratings, not wishing to appear negative, however the baseball terms are lost on me, and even after googling I'm unsure which of bunt and grounder is better. I guess a hit is a hit in any language. I suggest a score out of 5 might avoid misunderstandings.

The funny thing about by Pujols_Teh_Destroyer at Tue, 02/09/2016 - 11:35
Pujols_Teh_Destroyer's picture

The funny thing about baseball is that it varies depending on the situation. Sometimes a grounder is better and sometimes a bunt is more useful.

Back to the topic, I'd probably be more inclined to play Standard Pauper if current uncommons that were once common were legal, as I feel it opens up the format a bit more and increases the power level a bit without going off the deep end. A lot of the rarity shifts that go up do so for limited gameplay, not necessarily because the cards are inherently more powerful. Obviously having Rolling Thunder at common skews the limited gameplay of that set, and while yes, it is great in Classic Pauper, Standard Pauper lacks the big-mana necessary to really get it going.

Either way, it's a good discussion to have and I'm glad that the folks who support the format are having it.