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By: gwyned, gwyned
Jan 21 2015 1:00pm
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I. Introduction

It's release time for Fate Reforged, where we return to Tarkir's distant past to change the course of history and return dragons to this war-torn plane. 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 break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. This set introduces three new mechanics as well as the return of three others from Khans of Tarkir, so before reading this article, it might be helpful to make sure you understand how all these mechanics work. For the purpose of this article, I will be limiting myself to the creatures and spells that make use of these mechanics and finish with the reprints in the set. Next time, in Part Two, I will take a look at the 3 major Common cycles as well as the rest of the Commons.

If you've read my previous set reviews, you should be familiar with my methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead note each card as a "hit or myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. My reasoning is simple: unlike in Limited, you will never have an instance where you have to prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is not that helpful in actual practice. I also make use of a third category - borderline - for those cards that aren't great, but might see some play in the right deck. With that, let's jump right in!

II. Mechanic Cards

Fate Reforged includes only three Commons for each of the mechanics, with the exception of Manifest, which is represented in each color (as well as an additional multicolor card I will cover in Part Two). I will be breaking these down by mechanic for ease of comparison.

A. Bolster

1. Abzan Advantage is a nice twist on the classic White Enchantment removal spell. The Bolster effect is both simple and benign, giving your weakest creature a +1 / +1 counter at Instant speed, which alone can serve as a decent combat trick. The Demystify effect is unique in that it doesn't target, allowing your opponent to choose which Enchantment to sacrifice. Perhaps if there was a Bestow creature with Hexproof this would be a useful effect (albeit a very situational one), as is I can't come up with any situation where the sacrifice effect would be better for you than if the spell instead allowed you to target. So while I want to believe that this sacrifice effect has some hidden utility, as it stands I don't see any reason why you would want to play this card.

Verdict: Myth - I fail to see how this is to your advantage.

2. Abzan Skycaptain is a subpar creature with an interesting trigger on death. While 2/2 Flying creatures for 4 mana are fairly typical at Common, White generally has access to better stats for 4 mana. Giving you the ability to cash it in for two +1 / +1 counters is a pretty nice effect, but one that is limited by its conditional nature. First, the creature has to die, which is not irrelevant. Second, the counters automatically get placed on your weakest creature when most of the time you would prefer instead to boost one that is already fairly powerful. White Weenie and Boros decks are always looking for powerful and efficiently costed creatures, but Abzan Skycaptain is unfortunately neither of these. As such, I don't believe that this will see play.

Verdict: Myth - Oh captain my captain this is not.

3. Another variation on Rampant Growth, Map the Wastes is a fairly-costed card for what you get. Placing a single +1 / +1 counter on a creature is probably fair for one mana, although such a card would be far too weak to be worth including in your deck. That leaves the other two mana for Rampant Growth. In this case though, you are ramping from 3 to 5 instead of 2 to 4, which may or may not be relevant depending on the exact curve of the rest of your deck. In the past, Green simply hasn't had enough broken things to do with a lot of mana to make ramp strategies all that effective, instead relying on flooding the board with creatures. This card actually serves both functions, and as such is probably playable in the right list.

Verdict: Borderline - I'd map it as marginal, but not a total waste.

B. Dash

1. Alesha's Vanguard is just a vanilla 3/3 for 4 in Black, which is playable but not exciting. However, being able to get it into play with Haste for 2B could be strong in the right situation. Forcing your opponent to deal with a creature that he or she wasn't expecting can be good, even when that creature returns to your hand at the end of the turn. Additionally, returning to your hand also effectively dodges all Sorcery speed removal. On the other hand, in most scenarios you'd rather have the creature stick around after being cast. Indeed, this is exactly why creatures are generally better than direct damage. This is a marginal card, but one that has utility in the right situation.

Verdict: Borderline - Keeping this in the vanguard is probably the right idea.

2. Goblin Heelcutter is surprisingly similar to the previous card, but with the added benefit of being able to effectively attack into your opponent more often. If the secondary ability only triggered when it entered the battlefield, the choice on whether to repeatedly activate Dash would be more interesting. But since it triggers each time it attacks, once again most of the time it is going to be better hardcast than saving the additional mana only to have it return to hand. Additionally, with only 2 Toughness, it will generally be worse when blocked, since almost any creature will be able to trade with it effectively. I think that the Heelcutter works better in aggressive decks, but overall is probably slightly weaker.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not great, but I'd be a heel if I told you to always cut it from your deck.

3. Mardu Scout is clearly the most aggressive of the Dash creatures, since most of the time you only want to be casting it into a clear board. Being able to recast it each turn for a mere 2 mana is cheap enough that you can actually afford to do this and still cast other relevant spells in the same turn. Be able to swing in for 3 damage on Turn 2 is very strong, and this card seems like it would slot in very well to the popular RDW archetype in Standard Pauper. It's not exactly Ball Lightning, but probably as close as we can expect to see at Common. Of course, on offense, this will be functionally similar to Lightning Strike, but without the benefit of being able to directly target opposing creatures.

Verdict: Borderline - My scouts are confident this is the best of the Dash creatures, but it's still not amazing.

C. Delve

1. Delve is back, and in this case on an otherwise vanilla 5/5 creature in Gurmag Angler. Black doesn't typically get big creatures like this, and its relatively inexpensive casting cost of 6B means that most of the time you will get a pretty good discount on casting it. Of course, the problem is that vanilla creatures, particularly those in the mid- to late-game, typically aren't good enough on their own to be worth playing. Yes, it does activate Ferocious, but given that it's not even in the Temur colors, most of the time that probably won't matter. Playing big dumb beaters doesn't even work in Green, who is perfectly suited for that strategy. I certainly don't think it will fare any better in Black.

Verdict: Myth - No matter what angle you take, you'd be mag to play this.

2. Tasigur's Cruelty is perhaps the worst Delve card I can imagine. Mind Rot gives you this exact same effect (assuming you're not playing multiplayer) for 3 mana less. Yes, with Delve you should easily be able to reduce the casting cost of Tasigur's Cruelty to a similar cost, and maybe even get a one or two mana discount. But discard effects are at their best while your opponent still has cards in hand, which is not a typical situation in the late game when you have enough cards in your graveyard to fuel Delve. And in Standard Pauper, Mind Rot effects are typically Sideboard material at best against Control decks that hold on to powerful spells for the end-game. As such, I can't conceive of a single situation where I'd want this card.

Verdict: Myth - It would be the height of cruelty to make someone play this card.

3. Will of the Naga is essentially a doubled Crippling Chill without the card draw. Being able to tap down two creatures for successive turns is quite strong, often giving you enough time to either win the game outright or marginalize the tapped down creatures. A fair cost for this effect at Instant speed is somewhere between 2U and 2UU, so much of the time Delve will allow you to get a reasonable or even good deal on casting this card. The biggest downside of this card is that it doesn't deal with the creatures in any permanent way, limiting its utility to more tempo-based Blue decks. As such, this card will probably only see play in decks that are specifically designed to take best advantage of it.

Verdict: Borderline - The naga want you to play this card, but I'm not sure I will.

E. Ferocious

1. The Stompy archetype seems to hover right at the edges of being a contender in the metagame, and Frontier Mastadon is  yet another card in a long line that pushes the format in that direction without quite being good enough. A 3/2 for 2G is fine if uninspiring, but if you can activate Ferocious when it comes into play, getting a 4/3 is certainly a nice upgrade. Even then, the 3 Toughness is still a liability, and odds are that it may still trade with a lesser creature on the opposing side of the battlefield. It's a pretty fine line between this and Centaur Courser, with the latter being slightly less powerful but typically more consistent. As such, I don't see this making a big impact.

Verdict: Borderline - Play it if you mast, but it's hardly a new frontier.

2. Few words are as dangerous at Common than double strike, and as such Temur Battle Rage looks like the real deal. Its Instant speed, cheap to cast at only 1R, and is perfectly serviceable even when you don't activate Ferocious. But when targeting Heroic creatures, it shouldn't be hard to pump power up to 4, so you should be able to grant Trample fairly often. This card will slot right into the Boros and Red Deck Wins archetypes in the format, and in combination with Dragon Mantle, can make for some absurdly fast kills. It's also worth considering in Izzet Control, another of the premiere archetypes in the format right now. I predict that I will lose to this card more than any other card in Fate Reforged.

Verdict: Hit: When used in battle, this will make many a player rage and quit.

3. Whisperer of the Wilds looks decent, but too often it will simply be an overcosted Llanowar Elves that can't even attack profitably. 2 Toughness isn't enough to allow this card any defensive utility, and by the time you have a creature with 4 Power, you probably don't really need the mana ramp any more. And, as I mentioned earlier, Green simply doesn't have enough at the top end to be worth ramping up to. In some ways this reminds me of Scorned Villager from Innistrad, which also required you to jump through hoops to get it to produce GG. That card saw almost no play in the format, and I don't see any reason to believe that Whisperer of the Wilds will fare any better.

Verdict: Myth - Any whispers that you should play this are wildly off the mark.

F. Manifest

1.

Fierce Invocation, Formless Nurturing, and Soul Summons are a three card mini-cycle that each take the top card of your library and transform it into a colorless 2/2 creature that can be turned face up either for its mana cost or its Morph cost. In the case of the first two, you also add +1 / +1 counters, effectively giving you a vanilla creature whose Power and Toughness is in line with the casting cost of the card. Now, as I've discussed elsewhere, this is not actually card disadvantage, as it's equivalent to simply milling the top card of your Library. It also creatures some interesting decisions for your opponent, as the face down card could be anything from a Land to a spell to a relevant creature. And if it's a creature, turning it face-up at the right moment could be disastrous. It's also worth noting that the counters stay on the creature even when it's flipped over. Ultimately, these cards will never be worse than a vanilla creature, and have the potential to be much better. As such, I would rate them as playable if not usually very impressive.

Verdict: Borderline - I neither fiercely oppose nor formlessly nurture summoning these souls.

2. Sultai Emissary is the only creature with Manifest as a secondary ability in the set at Common. It is reminiscent of Oculus from Mirrodin Besieged, in that when it dies it draws you a card. Of course, in this case, that card immediately comes into play as a 2/2 colorless creature rather than into your hand. Once again, the value of that card is going to vary significantly. In general, getting an expensive creature into play early and be able to flip it up later is pretty good value. But if it's a spell or a Land, you haven't gotten much value for your play. Considering that a 1/1 is almost never playable in Standard Pauper, I think it's safe to say that this won't be seeing any play in the format.

Verdict: Myth - Calling this a miss is necessary.

3. Write Into Being is a nice variant on a Blue card selection spell. Getting a 2/2 for 2U in Blue is pretty standard, and the fact that you get to pick which of the two cards you do this with is a nice perk, as it allows you better odds of getting a strong creature that you can get on the board now and flip over later for extra value. You then get to scry with the other card, placing it either on the top or bottom of your library. Essentially, you can imagine this card as a 2/2 vanilla creature with Scry 1 when it enters the battlefield. Neither of those effects is good enough on their own, but when combined on the same card, I think you get just enough value to make this playable.

Verdict: Borderline: Don't write angry comments to me about this being unplayable.

G. Prowess

1. Dragon Bell Monk has a lot of utility for a simple 2/2 for 2W. Vigilance and Prowess is an interesting combination, as it allows you take advantage of the Power and Toughness boost from casting spells on your turn to attack your opponent and still be able to stay back to block on your opponent's turn, forcing him or her to take the Prowess trigger into consideration when planning attacks. But even with all that, I'm not sure this is actually better than Jeskai Student, which is seeing play in limited numbers in both White Weenie and Boros Heroic. The difference between 2 and 3 Toughness is pretty significant, as is the cheaper mana cost. As such, I don't think the Dragon Bell Monk quite gets there.

Verdict: Myth - This monk just doesn't ring my bell.

2. Other than having Prowess, Jeskai Sage is remarkably similar to Sultai Emissary. Both are 1/1s for 2 that when they die replace themselves with a card. Whether you would rather have the 2/2 creature immediately or just a card in hand is going to depend on the situation, but they're more or less on the same power level there. Unfortunately, Prowess isn't good enough to lift this card beyond the mediocrity of Sultai Emissary. 1/1s are just not what you want in this format (or any format, really). Blocking once and cycling just isn't enough impact on the board to make this worth a card. It's arguably better than Sultai Emissary, but that's about the best that can be said for it.

Verdict: Myth - The wise sage just knows when a card isn't good.

3. Jeskai Windscout has not seen any play in the format as of yet, and when compared to Lotus Path Djinn, it's easy to see why. For only one mana more, you get 2 more points of Toughness, making it able to tangle with any 2/2 Flyer and live to tell the tale even without activating Prowess. This card would easily slot into an Azorius Heroic style archetype, which has seen some success in the format as of late. At 1UU, this card would be strong. But at 3U, it's perhaps a bit too fair in its casting cost to make the jump from playable to good. That said, in a Blue deck that's looking to win in the air and cast relevant combat spells, this card certainly deserves a spot.

Verdict: Borderline - You won't stray far from the path by playing this card.

Overall, these Mechanic Commons are a fairly disappointing lot. Of the new mechanics, Bolster is pretty meager, while Dash and Manifest are situationally good at best. Of the returning mechanics, Prowess seems to have come out with the best of the lot. While there certainly are some fringe playables in here, with the possible exception of Temur Battle Rage, none of these will make a major impact in the format.

III. Reprints

1.

 

There's not much to say about these "Refuge" Lands that hasn't already been said. As expected, these have allowed decks to access two or even three colors fairly effectively. But surprisingly enough, even with access to multiple colors and the incidental Lifegain from these entering the battlefield, Aggro strategies have continued to be on the ascension in the format, perhaps more than ever before. As the number of cards in the format continues to increase, it will be interesting to see if three and four color decks start becoming more mainstream. If so, it will largely be as a result of this great cycle of dual lands at Common.

Verdict: Hit. The Standard Pauper community can take refuge in the fact that Common duals are here to stay.

2. Douse in Gloom returns to Standard Pauper from the original Ravnica block after a long absence. Instant speed removal is becoming harder and harder to find at Common, and dealing 2 damage while also gaining 2 life is surprisingly effective. Unfortunately, we currently still have Pharika's Cure in the format, which does the exact same thing for one mana cheaper (albeit BB instead of 2B). Right now most decks with access to Black play it as their main color, splashing for either White or Blue, and as such have no problem with access to BB early. There is also a considerable difference between 2 and 3 mana when it comes to removal. As such, for the moment, Douse in Gloom probably won't see much if any play.

Verdict: Myth - Hate to douse your hopes, but the forecast for this seeing play is pretty gloomy.

3. Hunt the Weak was just reprinted in Magic 2015 after first seeing print in Magic 2014, so this card has been in the format for a while now, and will now continue to exist for some time. Fight is at its best when it comes at Instant speed, and most of the Sorcery speed effects such as this one haven't seen much play, even in dedicated mono-Green lists. Getting the counter is nice, but it's certainly no Dragonscale Boon. With no particular synergy with +1 / +1 counters in Fate Reforged, I don't see any reason why this card would suddenly rise in players' estimation. It's just too slow and too expensive, especially when compared to the excellent Grim Contest, which I will review in Part Two of this article.

Verdict: Myth - This card is just too weak to see play. Best hunt elsewhere.

4. Speaking of cards reprinted in Magic 2015, Typhoid Rats is also included in Fate Reforged. In a format where aggressive strategies have been performing very well, the ability to leverage fast removal against them is increasingly important. Typically, a 1/1 for 1 is pretty mediocre, but in this case Deathtouch makes this into pseudo-removal as thus fills the role of anti-aggro quite nicely. For whatever reason, these rats have seen more play than their functionally equivalent Pharika's Chosen, and I can't foresee a situation where you'd actually want to have 4 copies of each. Overall, this card will continue to have a role to play as long as aggressive strategies remain at the forefront of the format.

Verdict: Borderline - These rats aren't really sick, but they are pretty effective at what they do.

IV. Conclusion

So that concludes Part One of my review of Fate Reforged 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 Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 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 soon for Part 2 of my review of Fate Reforged for Standard Pauper!