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By: gwyned, gwyned
May 08 2017 11:00am
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I. Introduction

It's time to prove your worth. Welcome to Amonkhet, ruled by the mighty God-Pharaoh, where life is all about preparing for a glorious afterlife by honing both body and mind. For me, that means it's time for the latest edition of my Standard Pauper set reviews. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to highlight the best cards from this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. With this set, we are introduced to the two new mechanics of Embalm and Exert, along with the return of one of my favorite mechanics, Cycling. As such, it would probably be good to already have a solid understanding of how these mechanics work before continuing with this review, as I will not be spending time to break them down.

Unlike my previous reviews, I will no longer be examining each and every card in the set. Rather, I will be discussing what I believe are the cards that will see the most play in the new format and highlighting those that I believe will be particularly relevant. For each card, I will assign it a simple ranking: good, for those cards that will see regular play; better, for those cards that are particularly relevant or worth building around; and best, for those cards that will define much of the format. I hope this new ranking system makes it easier to quickly get a grasp on the format and guide you as to which cards you should pick up first from Amonkhet. So with that out of the way, let's take a look at the cards.

II. Card Evaluation

1. Anointer Priest was one of the first Embalm cards spoiled, and it's a great illustration of why this mechanic should see play in Standard Pauper. Most of the time, you probably wouldn't play a vanilla 1/3 for 1W. However, even without its primary ability, the fact that you can cast this again from your Graveyard is enough of an advantage to make this worth considering in any White deck. Furthermore, since it comes back as a creature token itself, you even gain the point of Life even if you're not playing with any other cards that produce tokens. Obviously, this card is going to best when played in a deck where you can create such tokens, but there's enough value here to be marginally playable even without other synergies.

Verdict: Good - This has the potential to be quite annoying to your opponent.

2. Aven Initiate is another Embalm card and as such is good for similar reasons. A 3/2 Flying for 3B is already a fine card, although the two Toughness will certainly prove to be a liability, especially with Magma Spray back in the format. Its Embalm cost is also quite expensive, but the fact that the creature itself is going to be relevant even in late game situations helps make up for that cost. As such, this probably is best in a Control archetype, where you can utilize cards like these to eke out advantage incrementally over the long game. Indeed, when paired with Anointer Priest, you might have the foundation of an interesting Control strategy that plays most of the Blue and White Embalm creatures.

Verdict: Good - This should certainly initiate some interesting deck building.





3. The Cartouche cycle of Commons certainly looks interesting. In each case you're getting both a minor Aura and a color-specific effect, which helps mitigate some of the downside of playing creature Auras. The card still has to resolve for you to get the effect, so it's worth taking the time to ensure that your opponent can't remove the target in response. Ambition and Strength are easily the best of the cycle, giving you a conditional removal spell as well as a significant ability on the enchanted creature. Knowledge at least replaces itself, and grants the most powerful ability of the five - Flying. Sadly, Solidarity and Zeal are much less effective, and only worth playing in very specific decks.

Cartouche of Strength: Better - Letting the boosted creature Fight and granting Trample is pretty strong.
Cartouche of Ambition: Good - It's a bit ambitious to call this a removal spell, but you are getting good rate for your three mana.
Cartouche of Knowledge: Good - No matter what happens to the creature, it's good to know you at least got your card back.










4. Amonkhet brings us no less than ten Dual Lands for Standard Pauper, giving the format access to both the Enemy and Ally color pairs. This should make it routinely easy to play three colored decks, and generally will tend to push the metagame more towards Control, since it makes it that much easier for your deck to play answers for a wide variety of threats. At this point it's difficult to predict which color pairs will end up being the most important, but most if not all of these will see play as the format evolves.

Verdict: Best - Generally speaking, access to these Duals simply makes Magic duels better.

5. Amonkhet brings with it several other Common Lands, including Cradle of the Accursed. This card almost seems like it belongs in Zendikar, in that it's relatively close to an actual Common "man-land." While its Desert subtype doesn't matter for Standard Pauper, the fact that it acts as a colorless mana source that doesn't even enter the battlefield tapped makes it an easy include in a variety of decks. And once you have plenty of mana, you can easily sacrifice it to generate a 2/2 Zombie token for a reasonable 3 colorless mana. Essentially then, you're getting almost a spell's worth of value out of one of your Lands, which is a great way to gain advantage in the format.

Verdict: Better - Even as a colorless Land it will be more of a blessing than a curse.

6. Figuring out the right time and mode to play Djeru's Resolve will be an interesting decision. For a single mana, at its face you get the ability to save the creature from a variety of removal effects or lethal damage in combat, and even have the option of firing it off simply to make one of your tapped creatures a surprise blocker. However, you also always have the option instead to pay your two mana and replace it with a different card instead, which can also be done at Instant speed (like any Cycling card). That's quite a bit of utility out of what is basically just a cheap White protection spell. While not as broadly useful as something like Gods Willing, it makes up for it by being a lot more flexible.

Verdict: Good - Finding the right play with this card will test your resolve.

7. One of the most important tools in Red's arsenal is the ability to deal with 4 Toughness creatures, and Electrify provides the simplest, cleanest way to accomplish that. While strictly worse than Flame Lash from Aether Revolt (since it can also target players), that card has proven to be both difficult to find and quite expensive (at least online), so this card is a great substitute for most decks. Four mana is still a lot to pay for most aggressive Red decks, so this will tend to mostly be found in more midrange Izzet decks or multicolor Control decks without access to Black's removal suite. So while it's nothing fancy or special, this card should be a staple of a variety of different Red based decks.

Verdict: Good - Don't be shocked by how important this simple card might prove to be.

8. After a long absence, Essence Scatter is at last back in the format. For Standard Pauper, this is arguably the best enabler of Blue-based Control decks, simply because it provides such a cheap and efficient way to deal with your opponent's threats. It's particularly good in an environment that includes other Instant effects like Cycling, as you can hold this up through your opponent's turn and still have an alternate play if no target presents itself. Like the previous card, Essence Scatter fills a very important niche, giving Blue a very important tool in its arsenal, and as such will be a cornerstone in a wide variety of such decks. I expect to see this in just about every Blue deck in the format going forward.

Verdict: Best - I don't know any other card that is such an essential part of Control archetypes.

9. Evolving Wilds has become the de-facto Common mana-fixer in Standard for a long time, and in combination with the return of Common Duals Lands in Amonkhet, makes running two and three color decks easier than it's been in a while. While I wouldn't be surprised to see the Common Duals disappear again at some point in the future, reprinting Evolving Wilds in this set guarantees we'll still have access to this simple mana-fixing after Battle for Zendikar rotates. Still, it would have been nice to see a variation of this card that also allowed one to fetch Desert Lands in addition to Basics, since that Land subtype seems to be an important one for this set, and would have encouraged their play in the format.

Verdict: Good - It's ironic that this card hasn't evolved since its initial release back in Rise of the Eldrazi.

10. In an environment where returning cards from the Graveyard is an important theme, the fact that Final Reward gives Black the ability to eliminate such a possibility is quite strong. While quite expensive, this is otherwise the perfect answer to any creature, as it's Instant speed, unconditional, and guarantees that you won't have to deal with it again. In fact, this is strong enough that I wouldn't have been surprised if it had cost more than other Flesh to Dust variants. As is, I suspect this will replace both Demon's Grasp and Throttle as the premiere Black removal spell for the format. It is also quite encouraging to see anti-Graveyard recursion effects seeing print at Common.

Verdict: Better - There is no more final way than this of dealing with a troublesome creature.

11. There are a number of decent cards in Amonkhet that normally would be reserved for the Sideboard that are made so much better by the simply presence of the Cycling mechanic. And among these, Forsake the Worldly is probably the best. As we just discussing, exiling is such an important ability in this environment, and given the number of powerful Artifacts from Kaladesh block the ability to deal with such cards at Instant speed is quite valuable. However, in those instances where you find yourself up against an opponent without any such cards in their deck, you can instead simply replace this at Instant speed for a mere two mana. As such, I suspect we will see plenty of this card included maindeck in most White decks.

Verdict: Better - An option like this can make all the difference in the world.

12. Thanks to a bug on Magic Online where cards previously printed at Common show up as Standard Pauper legal even if they have been upshifted to Uncommon, Gravedigger is once again legal in the format. Historically this card has been very good, particularly when you can chain them together, essentially giving you an endless chain of 2/2 Zombies for a mere 4 mana a turn. But even apart from that particular stratagem, the ability to return your best card from your Graveyard back into your hand and gain a 2/2 as well is a potent form of card advantage, and one that is sure to see lots of play thanks to the preponderance of such effects in Amonkhet. This is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Verdict: Best - Few cards are better at letting you dig yourself out of a tough situation.

13. While I haven't been much impressed with most of the Common Exert creatures, Gust Walker is a notable exception. While its base stats are only a 2/2 for 2, the fact that it can attack as a 3/3 with Flying on Turn 3 makes it one of the most efficient beaters that White has at its disposal. Granted, giving up the ability to attack with it on the next turn is a pretty big disadvantage, but typically most 2/2s can't attack freely anyway, helping to mitigate that penalty. There are also a few decent Instant speed effects that untap creatures, potentially allowing you to get multiple swings with this in succession and ambushing an unwary opponent. All that together is enough to make this worth consideration.

Verdict: Good - This may wind up as a good option for White Weenie or other similarly aggressive decks.

14. Hieroglyphic Illumination is perfectly suited for a Blue-based Control deck. While you are paying an additional mana to get an Instant speed Divination, the fact that early on you can instead Cycle it for only a single Blue mana is surprisingly good. In situations where you are mana-screwed early or just can't afford to take the time to pay four mana and not affect the board, this still allows you to dig one card deeper into your deck to help find just what you need. And when you're instead trying to control the board with permission spells, having this as an option to use unspent mana at the end of your opponent's turn definitely helps alleviate the risk of not using your mana efficiently.

Verdict: Good - I hope I have illuminated why I think this card is useful.

15. I think many players underestimate the value of Lifegain in Standard Pauper, which could easily cause one to overlook a card like Luxa River Shrine. While you have to invest a total of 6 mana over the course of at least three turns, the ability to gain two Life every turn without paying any additional mana can make a huge difference over the course of a game. Granted, it takes a significant amount of time and resources to get this card to that state, during which it will be vulnerable to a variety of different effects from your opponent. But if your deck also has synergy with Artifacts (as many of the cards from Kaladesh block do), the potential benefits from this card seem to outweigh the risks in at least some matchups.

Verdict: Good - Is this card actually good, or am I just all wet?

16. Magma Spray is back yet again, and in this environment should prove to be an important option for Red. While getting two damage for a single Red mana at Instant speed isn't particularly noteworthy (especially since you can't even use it to target your opponent), it's the fact that it exiles a creature it kills that makes this such a good card. It's worth pointing out that the two damage from this card doesn't have to actually kill the creature itself in order to exile it when it dies, so this has some additional utility as a means to prevent Graveyard recursion. Should Gravedigger end up being a major threat in the new metagame, Magma Spray is probably the most efficient and easy way of dealing with that card.

Verdict: Good - I expect to fire this off a lot in this new metagame.

17. While not quite as good as Sea Gate Oracle from Rise of the Eldrazi, Naga Oracle serves a very similar function. A 2/4 for 3U is already almost playable in the format, allowing it to block most of the creatures in the format. And in this case, when it enters the battlefield, you get to dig three cards deeper into your deck, getting rid of any useless cards and potentially setting yourself up well for future turns. Even better, if you've got some Graveyard recursion abilities, this card allows you to immediately take advantage of such effects while still digging deeper into your Library. I suspect this will see plenty of play in Blue-based Control decks, and is probably even worth considering in almost any midrange or Control deck that can reliably cast it.

Verdict: Better - If my predictions are correct, this will prove to be a very potent card.

18. It's been a while since we've had good Graveyard-hate at Common, but Scarab Feast seems to be the real deal. For only a single Black mana, you get to remove the three best cards from your opponent's Graveyard. Even better, being an Instant means that you can wait until your opponent fires off some sort of Graveyard recursion effect, then deny them the benefits of such a spell. And once again, the fact that this card also has Cycling means that you can even maindeck it, knowing that if your opponent isn't relying on these types of effects that you can just draw a new card instead. However, given the number of these kinds of effects in Amonkhet, it will be unusual for this not to have a decent target.

Verdict: Good - This will no doubt feast on a lot of Graveyards.

19. While not quite Archaeomancer reprinted, Scribe of the Mindful may well serve in a similar role in the new metagame, a prospect that is particularly of note with Gravedigger also making its presence felt. Most of the time a 2/2 for 2U would need a very powerful ability to be worth playing. In this case, you're paying four mana to return an Instant or Sorcery from your Graveyard to your hand. This has to be done over at least two turns; and in the meantime, you've got a 2/2 body to go along with it. It's worth noting that its ability can be activated at Instant speed, allowing you to make use of it as a chump blocker or something similar, as long as it remains untapped. While not overtly powerful, it's definitely interesting.

Verdict: Good - This is certainly a card you'll want to keep in mind.

20. In addition to having spells with the Cycling ability, Amonkhet also brings us creatures like Shimmerscale Drake that are either vanilla or "french" vanilla creatures but that can also be traded in for a card. And this particular creature is my favorite of the bunch. A 3/4 Flying for 4U is pretty close to playable already, but the big advantage here is your ability to trade this in for another card if you draw it early. Even better, in the right built there would even be the potential to return this to your hand later after cycling it, giving you the best of both options. So while normally you want to be cautious about including a five-drop creature in your deck, this goes a long way to avoiding much of that risk.

Verdict: Good - I'm trying not to rate this too highly on my scale.

21. Soulstinger has a surprising amount of complexity for a Common. A 4/5 for 3B is obviously well above par, so one expects a drawback. But in this case you have options on how you want to pay the penalty. On the one hand, you can just drop the two -1 / -1 counters on an irrelevant creature, taking full advantage of the discounted rate on your sizable new creature. On the other hand, you could instead bring it into play as a much smaller 2/3, but then get to use those negative counters like a removal spell once Soulstinger dies, even at the end of combat. Unfortunately, you can't split the counters up in either case. But nonetheless, it shouldn't be too hard to gain two cards worth of advantage from such an exchange.

Verdict: Better - Giving you options takes a lot of the sting out of the drawback.

22. Speaking of -1 / -1 counters, Splendid Agony gives you a simple, efficient way to use two of them against your opponent. Unlike the previous card, you can split these two counters between two creatures, which means that in the best case scenario you could turn two equal trades in combat into a 2-for-1 against your opponent. But even outside of that ideal situation, this can permanently shrink a large creature, guarantee a 2 Toughness creature can't Regenerate, or allow one of your own creatures to survive combat. Again, there is a lot of utility to be had in this card, and having these different options as your disposal is what makes this such a good removal spell in Black's arsenal.

Verdict: Better - It's not quite Agony Warp, but it will do the job splendidly.

23. Tah-Crop Elite is easily the best of the Exert creatures at Common. While paying 3W for a 2/2 Flying creature is a bit steep, it's still reasonable enough to be worth considering at the top end of a White Weenie or similarly aggressive archetype. But what really makes this card shine is the fact that it's essentially a better version of Inspiring Captain, in that you not only get to choose when to fire off the "anthem" effect on your creatures but also get to include this creature in the attack as well. Of course, this does give your opponent the option of simply destroying it before it ever gets to attack, but overall this is a much better option for any "go-wide" strategy and definitely one of the best uses of the Exert mechanic.

Verdict: Good - This is definitely the cream of the crop of Common Exert creatures.

24. Tormenting Voice is back for yet another reprint, guaranteeing it will continue to be around past the next rotation of Standard. On an initial read, you could be forgiven for thinking this isn't very good, since you're essentially just cashing in two cards to draw two more. But in a format where you can gain significant advantages by dropping cards into your Graveyard, having to discard a card can actually work to your advantage.  Plus, it turns out it's pretty easy to cash in this plus some other worthless card in your hand in order to draw two new cards, and getting to do so for only 1R is definitely a reasonable price to pay. This can earn a spot in a variety of different archetypes, and should see plenty of play.

Verdict: Better - This card will be around to torment us for a long time to come.

25. Wander in Death is yet another niche card that is good in particular matches and/or archetypes but gains significant utility by also having the Cycling mechanic built into it. It's almost a Black Divination, guaranteeing that you'll gain two creatures, but requiring that some of your creatures have already been killed or found their way into your Graveyard by some other means. Getting two for only three mana is definitely card advantage, even if it is conditional. And of course, you always have the option of just trading it in for an immediate card in those situations where your Graveyard is empty or when a card off the top is potentially better than anything you've already gotten rid of.

Verdict: Good - In this set, I fear Graveyard recursion may be the death of us all.

III. Final Thoughts

With no rotation of Standard for the release of Amonkhet, the pool of cards for Standard Pauper is as large as it's ever been. As such, even the strongest cards in this set have to compete with a lot of other cards and mechanics. But in my estimation, while Amonkhet isn't adding a lot of powerful cards in and of themselves, there's plenty here to help augment and support some of the other successful decks in the metagame. In particular, the Graveyard recursion from Embalm and Cycling will combine quite nicely with the Madness mechanic from Shadows Over Innistrad, token strategies will find additional support, and blue-based Control decks have even more tools than ever before. And of course, with a full set of Allied and Enemy Duals, almost any combination of colors could be viable. As such, I suspect that we'll see plenty of new decks and news ideas as we head into the future.

IV. Conclusion

So that's my pick of the Commons from Amonkhet for Standard Pauper. 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 Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 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 over on 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 League, which is a weekly "league-style" PRE in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded each week for the Top 4 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. You can find all the information about the league here, and we'd love to have you come join us in the #mpdc chat channel in the future.