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By: gwyned, gwyned
May 01 2013 10:46am
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I. Introduction

Unless you've been living under a rock, or lost Internet access for the past week or so, by now you've seen the full spoiler for Dragon's Maze, the last set in the Return to Ravnica block. While there's lots of great information on this set for Limited and Standard, it is the purpose of this article to break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. Unlike any other set, Dragon's Maze has very specific design constraints that played a major role in the Commons that were released for the set. In fact, the set contains exactly 1 card for each guild that utilizes each guild's signature mechanic, 1 multi-color card for each guild, 4 different cycles of 5 cards each, and 21 additional mono-colored cards. Let's start off by taking a look at each guild's signature mechanic card.

II. Guild Mechanic Cards

Over the course of the set, ten different mechanics have been revealed, one for each of the ten guilds of Ravnica. If you'd like a reminder about how these mechanics work, there's a great primer over on the official site for both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. For the sake of brevity, I will assume that you are already familiar with these concepts. So let's dive into these signature cards in alphabetical order:

1. Battering Krasis is not a particularly good card. For Green, in Green one expects at least a vanilla 3/3. While the addition of Trample certainly helps, the ability is obviously almost irrelevant on a 2/1 body. While the Evolve mechanic is quite powerful in Limited, it is much weaker in Standard Pauper due to the prevalence of removal spells in this format. In particular, spells like Murder and Victim of Night have become a format staple. It doesn't really matter how large you can grow your Evolve creatures if all your efforts fail to ever see the creature deal damage. Perhaps in a deck with a very high number of creatures, specifically built around the Evolve mechanic, Battering Krasis might find a home. Otherwise, there simply are much better options available in the card pool.

Grade: C-

2. Boros Mastiff combines both an efficient body and a relevant ability. White is perfectly happy to run out 2/2s for , especially in the White Weenie strategy where specific creatures are less relevant than simply overwhelming your opponent's ability to deal with all of your threats. Lifelink provides some welcome incremental Life gain, which is particularly helpful when dealing with other aggressive strategies. That said, more often than not your opponent will be able to trade with the Mastiff at the very least, so it's unlikely the Lifelink will be active very often. Fact is, the extra 2 points of Life is not enough of a penalty to keep an opponent from blocking this creature.

Grade: C
 

3. Hidden Strings is one of the most interesting Commons in the set. The evaluations I have heard concerning this card vary the full spectrum from "almost broken" to "not playable," and everything in between. For , you get a double Twiddle effect, which by itself is a useful if not particularly powerful tempo play. The Cipher effect is a bit more cryptic. Since it occurs after combat, it cannot be used to tap an opponent's creature in any relevant way, since it will simply untap on your opponent's turn. Likely strategies include giving a creature pseudo-Vigilance, squeezing out an additional activated ability, or reusing mana sources. Whether this effect is good enough to be relevant remains to be seen, but it certainly is interesting.

Grade: B
 

4. Back in Return to Ravnica, Detain was typically paired with a creature, giving pretty good value to the effect. Lyev Decree, lacks any such extra value. The fact that it targets two different creatures is certainly a nice thought, but this hardly seems worth a card, especially at Sorcery speed. Even cards like Crippling Chill or Inaction Injunction which essentially Detain a single creature and replaces themselves at the same time, are probably not good enough to be desirable in Standard Pauper. White has plenty of other options when it comes to getting opposing creatures out of the way. Unfortunately, this means that Lyev Decree probably isn't playable.

Grade: D-
 

5. Rakdos Drake is certainly interesting. While a 1/2 Flying creature for without any special abilities is pretty subpar, a 2/3 Flying creature that can't block is much stronger. Based on that, it's hard to imagine a situation where you wouldn't want to Unleash this. Compare this to Bloodhunter Bat, which gives you a virtual vanilla 2/2 with a 2 point 'Life Drain' ability for one additional mana. While certainly not suited for more controlling builds, an aggressive Mono-Black or Black-based deck should be able to get pretty solid use out of Rakdos Drake. It's probably not an auto-include even in those archetypes, but is certainly a card that is worth playing.

Grade: C+
 

6. For whatever reason, Bloodrush has not had much of an impact on Standard Pauper, perhaps because of the dominance of removal in the format. Rubblebelt Maaka would be a solid option in just such a deck. As a 3/3 for , it is perfectly serviceable, although not particularly noteworthy. But the ability to cast it as a Red Giant Growth is pretty good, even if the ability can only be used offensively. It is certainly better than Scorchwalker, which has a much less relevant Power and Toughness for the same mana cost and a more expensive Bloodrush cost. That said, in Red 3/3s for are not hard to come by, and without any additional abilities, such cards do not usually see much play in the format.

Grade: C
 

7. Speaking of 3/3s for 4, Thrashing Mossdog is just such a creature, and comes with the very relevant Reach ability. In some ways this is a slightly more aggressive Giant Spider, but there is a surprisingly significant difference between creatures with 3 Toughness and creatures with 4. Perhaps this card is actually closer in value to Korozda Monitor, which is a 3/3 Trample for the same cost and also has the same Scavenge keyword. Interestingly enough, Scavenge has also not showed up much in the format, probably because of its surprisingly high cost to activate the ability and, as always, the predominance of removal in the format. In the end, I believe Thrashing Mossdog is solid but not impressive.

Grade: C


8. Tithe Drinker is probably the best of the guild mechanic cards at Common, which is less surprising when you realize it is also the only multicolored one (and thus does double-duty as the Orzhov multicolor card). One immediately thinks of Child of Night, which has seen some play in Standard Pauper thanks to just how relevant Lifelink can be. But the addition of Extort takes this card from good to excellent. While the cost of is going to make it difficult to cast this card on Turn 2, in a dedicated Orzhov Extort deck this is a great addition to the 2-drop slot right alongside Basilica Screecher. While it remains to be seen if Orzhov can emerge as a real contender in the metagame, this card will certainly help propel that archetype forward.

Grade: B

 
9. Wake the Reflections wins the award for the most disappointing Common in Dragon's Maze. The Populate mechanic was quite strong in Return to Ravnica Limited, but was weak enough at Common that it never emerged as a viable option for Standard Pauper. With Selesnya having a strong showing in the metagame, many hoped that Dragon's Maze might finally give the guild a strong Populate card. But what we got instead is a simple Sorcery speed Populate effect. It doesn't create a token; it doesn't draw a card; it's not even at Instant speed to allow for a combat trick. While Classic Pauper might be able to find a strong enough token to make this worth considering, in Standard Pauper this card is essentially worthless, and thus a complete bust.

Grade: F


10. Our last signature mechanic card is Weapon Surge, a card perfectly suited for Red's aggressive strategies. Ignoring the Overload mechanic for one moment, this is a functional reprint of Kindled Fury. While giving a Creature First Strike is a powerful ability, Kindled Fury's effect is simply too narrow to be worth a card in Standard Pauper. But the more interesting question is whether, for an additional , casting Kindled Fury on all your creatures takes this card from narrow to relevant. Such an effect is very aggressive, and of limited value when on the defensive. Particularly now, with the metagame tilted dramatically towards Control, I feel that this card simply will not be powerful enough to see much play. However, should a very aggressive deck rise to the top, this card would be the perfect addition for just such a deck.

Grade: C-

Summary:

Overall, the guild mechanic cards are fairly lackluster. If the goal was to really highlight these mechanics at Common, these cards are a dismal failure. Instead, they seem to more of a grudging support for their respective guilds in the other two blocks. Where these mechanics were already relevant in the Standard Pauper metagame, these cards might see some play. But where these mechanics were absent from the format, these cards certainly will do nothing to change that.

III. Mono-Colored Cards

Next, I want to review the mono-colored cards in Dragon's Maze. For the moment, I will be intentionally saving the cycle of Gatekeepers, Maze Elementals, and Cluestones for later. Sadly, this leaves us with a mostly terrible glut of bad to terrible cards, so I won't spend much time dwelling on just how awful they truly are. For reference, these are all either Ds or Fs.


 * A falter effect for mono-colored cards for ? Pass!

* A 1/3 vanilla creature for ? I don't think so...

* A Sorcery speed removal spell for creatures with Defender for ? Cute, but no.

* A Regenerate effect for a single ? Not worth a card.

 

 

* A conditional counterspell for ? Not going to happen...

* An 0/5 with Defender? Definitely not!

* A Green only Pit Fight that requires your creature to have a +1/+1 counter? NO!

* A Sorcery speed pump spell in Green? Better options already, thanks.

* Very meager Lifegain plus a White Fog that only targets you? Really?

* A 2/1 First strike for that suicides in at first opportunity? Not going to happen.

 

 


* Paralyzing Grasp, but only Creatures with 3 or less power? Nope!

* "Removal" that only inconveniences a player when that creature attacks or blocks? Not remotely close!

* A Flying, First Strike 3/1 for ? Not bad, but terribly expensive!

* Almost a strictly worse Divination, netting fewer cards with very minor card filtering? So bad...

 

 

So those are the true junkers of the set. It does get better, but not much. This next batch of cards are at least marginally playable, although I doubt they will find a home in the format anytime soon.

Haazda Snare Squad is quite the name. A 1/4 for is at least the equivalent of a Horned Turtle, and its quasi-Battalion tapping ability should be relevant most of the time. It's somewhat conflicted, since most of the time a 1/4 really wants to be used defensively, while its ability clearly only works on offense. If this had Vigilance, it might be a real contender. As is, this is borderline playable, but probably not going to find a home in any of the existing White-based decks.

Grade: C

Hired Torturer looks decent at first blush, but ends up falling short. A 2/3 for is certainly relevant, but much less so with Defender. Essentially, it loses Defender and becomes unblockable for , with the slight bonus of also revealing a random card in your opponent's hand. As an Enchantment or Artifact, this could be a decent win-condition. But as a creature, it's just too fragile to really count on.

Grade: C-

 

Kraul Warrior is yet another 2/2 for with a mana-activated pump ability. In this case however, the fact that it costs makes it much less relevant. Compare this to Darkthicket Wolf, which pumps for only 1 less Power and Toughness but does so for three mana cheaper. Darkthicket Wolf has seen some play in aggressive Green-based decks, but as long as its in the format, I would be surprised to see Kraul Warrior get much play.

Grade: C-

 

Punish the Enemy, while expensive at , is actually pretty decent. For 5 mana, you get almost two cards worth of value in dealing 3 damage to both a player and a creature. Even better, it's at Sorcery speed, allowing it to be used as a combat trick as well. While it's certainly no Searing Blaze, it's good enough to probably warrant running a couple of copies in an aggressive Red deck.

Grade: B-

 

While Wind Drake is hardly exciting, it is a very worthwhile 2/2 Flying for . Typically, to be playable in Standard Pauper a Flyer needs to be at least a 2/3, be a mana cheaper, or have a very relevant special ability attached. Given the existence of cards like Welkin Tern, Stormbound Geist, or Scrapskin Drake, Wind Drake probably won't see much play, even in an aggressive mono-Blue build.

Grade: C-

 

And finally we come to the last card in the mono-colored Commons for Dragon's Maze, again excluding the cycle of Gatekeepers, Maze Elementals, and Cluestones. Without further ado, I give you:

Crypt Incursion will probably be the surprise hit of Dragon's Maze. With Gravedigger currently missing from the metagame, creature-based Graveyard recursion has not been nearly as much a factor as it has in previous sets. Undying creatures, however, continue to be a viable threat, and even as a 1 for 1 this would be a fine use for Crypt Incursion. Similarly, Control based decks are starting to make use of Gravepurge, and this is a reliable way to counter that strategy as well, particularly when Archaeomancer is one of those creatures. Additionally, Crypt Incursion is a great answer for decks that rely upon filling up their Graveyard and then gaining obscene amounts of life by casting and then flashing back Gnaw to the Bone. Finally, since Black doesn't currently rely as much on Graveyard recursion, this gives Black-based decks a nice option for incremental Life gain to help survive aggressive strategies or come out on top in a protracted game.

Grade: B

Summary:

Sadly, there's not much value to be had in most of the mono-colored Commons from Dragon's Maze. While there will probably be 2-3 cards that will find their way into winning decks in the future, I do not anticipate them having a major presence in Standard Pauper for the foreseeable future.

IV. Conclusion

This concludes Part One of my review of Dragon's Maze for Standard Pauper. Next time, I'll analyze the guild multi-color cards, then offer my thoughts on the three Common cycles found in this set. Until then, 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. Also, you can get a sneak peek at my video content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. Finally, you can also follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon for Part Two!