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By: gwyned, gwyned
May 14 2013 11:05pm
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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.

In Part One, I looked at each guild's signature mechanic as well as reviewed the 21 mono-colored Commons that were not part of the 4 different cycles. Today, in Part Two, we'll start off by looking at evaluating each of the multi-color guild cards at Common, then finish off by reviewing the 4 different cycles of Commons.

II. Multi-Colored Commons

1. It's hard not to be disappointed in Armored Wolf-Rider. While Selesnya remains a powerful archetype in Standard Pauper, Dragon's Maze has not been kind to it. Wake the Reflections is almost completely unplayable, and this card isn't much better. For , I would expect at least a 4/4 with a keyword ability, not a vanilla 4/6. Cards like Sentinel Spider and Zhur-Taa Swine are already much better than this, and even those cards have not seen widespread play. Even in a slower format like Standard Pauper, 5 mana is a lot, and given the prevalence of removal, will often be destroyed for much less than its casting cost. This certainly isn't what the Selesnya deck is looking for, and it won't benefit any other archetype either. Given its multi-color casting cost, this should have been much better.

Grade: D+

2. Another archetype that I was hoping would see a boost from Dragon's Maze is a dedicated Evolve deck. At first glance, Beetleform Mage seems like it might be good in such a deck. But I don't think it's as good as it looks. By its base stats, a 2/2 for isn't great. Likewise, while getting +2/+2 and Flying for seems pretty strong, the Evasion isn't as relevant as you might think, since typically an opponent won't block pump-creatures anyway. Finally, Beetleform Mage doesn't actually do anything to advance an Evolve archetype with its only average Power and Toughness. While there will be situations when this card would be helpful in breaking through stalled boards, all in all I don't think this will see a lot of play.

Grade: C

3. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Deputy of Acquittals is probably the chase Common from Dragon's Maze for the format. In fact, I dedicated an entire blog post to this card not too long after it was spoiled. A 2/2 Flash for is already solid enough, and when you factor in its ability to act as a virtual Unsummon for your creatures, this card goes from decent to quite good. And due to its easy-to-overlook 'may' clause, you can even ignore this ability when it isn't to your advantage. This card should see play in any deck looking to take advantage of enter-the-battlefield type effects or any Control build that has access to both colors. While not broken like Kor Skyfisher, this is quite good, and I expect that it will see plenty of play in the upcoming metagame.

Grade: B+

4. Drown in Filth seems like a solid card that lacks the right deck to play it in. While both Standard and Classic Pauper have decks that can take advantage of getting creatures into the Graveyard, no such mechanic exists in Standard Pauper. On the one hand, removal spell for would be quite good, even at Sorcery speed. However, given that most decks in this format are approximately only running 22-23 lands, on average this card will only be able to take out a creature with 1 or 2 Toughness. On the other hand, in a deck running a full playset of Evolving Wilds and Haunted Fengraf, by the middle of the game this should be pretty close to unconditional removal. But the singular difficulty in getting any value out of those milled cards makes me doubt that this will see much play.

Grade: C-

5. Speaking of the Graveyard, Morgue Burst is another card that tries to use it as a resource. In many ways this card is very similar to Grave Exchange, which for the same converted mana cost returns a creature to hand and removes a creature from your opponent's board. Obviously, Morgue Burst has the upside of also being able to target a player. However, given the relatively low Power of the average creature in this format, many times the damage from this card will not be sufficient to remove your opponent's largest threat, particularly since most creatures in both Red and Black are smaller than average. Finally, in a deck with a more dedicated burn theme, this card is almost certainly too expensive to see play. Based on these factors, I would contend that this card is inferior to Grave Exchange, which itself only saw little play. Probably unplayable.

Grade: D+

6. For Classic Pauper, there has been a lot of discussion about how Nivix Cyclops may provide a great boost for the Wee Dragonauts deck, increasing its chances of being competitive. But how will it fare in Standard Pauper? First, at for a 1/4, it is already a hard-to-cast Horned Turtle with Defender, which is okay but not great. Second, given that Izzet and Grixis decks already exist that rely on a small number of creatures and a large number of spells to win an attrition match, this card would slot in very comfortably with Frostburn Weird and Goblin Electromancer in that deck. Obviously the ability is less good with a large counterspell suite, since one rarely will you want it to activate during your opponent's turn. Still, Nivix Cyclops seems pretty solid, and I expect players will experiment with it in a few different builds in the upcoming metagame.

Grade: B

7. How many different Divination-type effects do we need in one block? Unless one is attempting a dedicated Mill-deck or has crafted a deck to use the Graveyard as a resource, Pilfered Plans is essentially just a harder-to-cast Divination. And as I mentioned above with Drown in Filth, in the current Standard Pauper metagame it is very difficult to get much value out of the Graveyard, so milling yourself isn't any better. Even in a deck utilizing cards like Stitched Drake or those with Flashback, generally speaking you can't generate enough value out of milling yourself to make it worth building around. While there are definitely decks in Classic Pauper that might be able to take advantage of this in some way, the effect probably isn't strong enough to be viable there either. Overall, I doubt this will see much play.

Grade: C-

I covered Tithe Drinker in my previous article, since it happens to be both the Guild-mechanic card and the multi-color card for Orzhov. It should go without saying that my evaluation of it hasn't changed since then. It is very similar to Child of Night, which has seen some play in Standard Pauper thanks to the relevance Lifelink in the format. With the addition of Extort, this card goes from good to excellent. It must be noted that its cost of is going to make it difficult to cast this card on Turn 2, and later in the game it is hard to make a 2/1 relevant. Nonetheless, 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

Boros was one of the early favorites for the format after the release of Gatecrash, and while it remains a strong archetype it seems to have fallen from favor as of late. Viashino Firstblade should definitely give players a reason to give that deck archetype another chance. Since it costs the same as Skyknight Legionnaire, it is worth comparing the two. Viashino Firstblade gives up the evasion of the Skyknight for a very relevant enters-the-battlefield ability, potentially smashing for 4 on Turn 3, which is quite good in an aggressive deck. It will often go unblocked the turn it comes into play, but afterwards is clearly much less relevant than the Skyknight, unless one builds in ways to recur its effect. While it is probably only good in a dedicated Boros aggressive deck, I suspect this will prove quite strong in that particular archetype.

Grade: B-

Last, but certainly not least is Zhur-Taa Druid, probably the most interesting creature at Common in the set, even if it's not the most powerful. Obviously paying for a 1/1 is pretty mediocre, but otherwise Zhur-Taa Druid is essentially two cards in one, combining the mana-ramp of Llanowar Elves with the pinging ability of Goblin Fireslinger. While I am aware of a few players who experimented with a Gruul ramp deck built around fatties like Zhur-Taa Swine after the release of Gatecrash, thus far that archetype has not managed to emerge as a viable contender. However, this card seems strong enough that it certainly is worth revisiting that concept and seeing if something strong might be possible. Like I said, very interesting, but at this point I am not sure just how good this will prove to be.

Grade: C

Summary:

On the whole the multi-colored cards are much stronger than the guild-mechanic cards were, and for the most part proportionately better than their mono-colored counterparts. While only a few of them will probably make much of an impact on the format, most of them are at least playable. Additionally, they are unique enough that they may even enable new deck archetypes to emerge, either now or in combination with upcoming set releases. If there is value to be found for Standard Pauper in Dragon's Maze, most of that value is found here.

III. Common Cycles
A. Gatekeepers

Almost a month ago, I wrote a full-length article on the cycle of Gatekeepers in Dragon's Maze. With the whole set spoiled now, this cycle clearly stands out from most of the other Commons. A 2/4 for 4 converted mana cost is already almost playable in the format, and with these potent 'enters the battlefield' abilities, I predict that at least some of these will see play in Standard Pauper. Their abilities range from excellent to somewhat mediocre, but all of these effects have seen play in one form or another. In combination with the creature they are quite good. The drawback of having to run a large number of Gates (at least 9 to have any consistency in getting the effect) is certainly worth mentioning, but, especially in a format with Ghostly Flicker, I predict these will see quite a bit of play.

Grades:
Saruli Gatekeepers C-;
Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
and Opal Lake Gatekeepers C;
Sunspire Gatekeepers
B;

Ubul Sar Gatekeepers B+

B. Mazerunners

Earlier, in discussing Armored Wolf-Rider, I mentioned that the standards for a playable 5 mana casting cost creature is pretty high, even in a slower format like Standard Pauper. And what is true for 5 mana is even more true for 6 mana. With the possible exception of Grave Exchange, there is not a single 6 mana casting cost card that is currently played in Standard Pauper. Sadly, an evaluation of these Maze-runners doesn't give me any reason to believe that this will change with Dragon's Maze. Now don't get me wrong. The keyword abilities that these creatures possess and give to other multi-colored creatures ranges from good to excellent. And the combination of the Power and Toughness of these creatures is quite potent, totaling up to 8 or 9 for each one. But none of that is enough to make up for how expensive they are to cast. While there may be some fringe Control decks that are able to get some value out of these, I would expect them as a 1-of or 2-of at best, and there certainly will be games even in those deck archetypes when these never get cast. As much as I would like these to be playable, I just don't think that they measure up.

Grade: D+
 

C. Cluestones

The second cycle of Commons in Dragon's Maze are the Cluestones, one for each guild. They each cost , add 1 of either of that guild's colors, and can be sacrificed to draw a card for the cost of both that guild's colors. Their name is probably a reference to Mind Stone, which was an Uncommon with the same ability for 1 mana cheaper in both the casting cost and sacrifice-ability, but only produced colorless mana. If these Cluestones likewise only cost , they would be quite good. As it is, a 3 casting cost mana accelerant, even one that fixes, has generally not been playable in Standard Pauper. The fact that these cycle for 2 mana is a point in their favor, but the fact that it costs you 5 mana altogether to cycle them makes this a pretty expensive effect. While there may be a deck that wants these, I don't think they will see much play.

Grade: C-

D. Guildgates

With the release of Return to Ravnica, there was considerable debate about the merits of the Guildgates. In my opinion, they have more than proven their worth, particular in Standard Pauper, where their ability to act as a Dual Land is quite strong. These are the best source of mana-fixing that has come along at Common in a long time, and while not as strong as the original Ravnica Karoo-lands, these are a great boon to any Control deck and even see play in most Aggro archetypes as well.

Grade: B-

Summary:

I love the fact that Dragon's Maze got four different cycles at Common, and that each of these cycles strongly connects with the rest of the set. The Gatekeepers themselves are interesting and pretty strong, and the Guildgates are certainly groundbreaking as the first true Common Dual-Land. And while the 'Maze-Runners' and Cluestones are less than optimal, they still are interesting effects that still contribute to the variety of the Standard Pauper cardpool.

IV. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, how good is this set for Standard Pauper? My overall evaluation is mixed. On the one hand, I believe that Dragon's Maze makes some very valuable additions to the card pool, contributing several playable cards. On the other hand, in such a strongly multi-colored set, I would have expected even greater value than we received. Compared to the Shards of Alara block, which featured some very strong mono-colored and multi-colored Commons, on the whole the Return to Ravnica block in general, and Dragon's Maze in particular, is a bit disappointing. Specifically, I found the guild-mechanic Commons in Dragon's Maze to be quite subpar. Therefore, I would rate Dragon's Maze as being pretty average for Standard Pauper.

This concludes my review of Dragon's Maze for Standard Pauper. 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. See you next time!