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By: gwyned, gwyned
Jul 13 2015 12:02am
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I. Introduction

It's nearly release time for Magic Origins, the last of the Core sets for Magic the Gathering, and it appears that Wizards wants this product line to go out with a doozy! 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 us to three new mechanics, while also bringing back two other mechanics from previous sets that will also now be available to any future set. So it's probably a good idea to brush up on these mechanics before continuing, as I will assume you understand how all of these work. For the purpose of today's article, I will be limiting myself to the creatures and spells that make use of these five mechanics. Then, in Part Two, I will analyze all of the reprints before turning to the rest of the Commons in the set in Part Three.

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. So without further ado, here's my Standard Pauper review for Magic Origins!

II. Mechanic Commons
A. Renown

Renown is a brand new mechanic that feels like it should have been introduced long ago. It rewards players for doing what they naturally should be doing anyway - dealing damage to their opponent with creatures. This adds a great tension to combat, making it much less likely that your opponent will simply ignore your early attacks, since the addition of the single +1/+1 counter most of the time is a significant upgrade to these creatures. It's also worth pointing out that it only triggers once, and triggers whenever a creature deals damage to a player - whether through being unblocked, through Trample, or even through effects that redirect damage to you or your opponent.

1. Enshrouding Mist technically isn't a Renown card, but it makes sense to include since its effect depend on the mechanic. This is our White Instant protection spell of the format, preventing the creature from dying to damage and giving it a slight buff. Sadly, preventing all damage is considerably weaker than giving the creature protection from a color, since it does nothing against bounce or destroy effects and can't be used to grant pseudo-unblockability. Gods Willing remains the premier White protection spell of the format right now, and even after it rotates out, there will still be several similar cards that are significantly better than this. Even if you are playing multiple renown creatures, this isn't worth a slot in your deck.

Verdict: Myth - I hope you haven't missed the fact that this is not a great card.


2. Knight of the Pilgrim's Road was one of two "poster-children" for the Renown mechanic, and the fact that it doesn't have any secondary abilities means it's probably the weakest of the lot. A 3/2 for 2W isn't all that great, and boosting it up to a 4/3 isn't enough for it to survive against a lot of different threats, including other 3 drops. This would have been much better as a 2/3, where the Renown boost would be enough to protect it against most forms of removal and also make it harder for your opponent to profitably block when it first enters the battlefield. For an additional mana, this really isn't much better than Oreskos Swiftclaw, and that isn't a card that you want to be playing in even a dedicated White Weenie build.

Verdict: Myth - Don't travel with him along the road of mediocrity.


3. Although it's not stellar, for the same mana cost I would gladly take Stalwart Aven over the Knight of the Pilgrim's Road. A 1/3 with Flying for 2W is pretty mediocre (especially when compared to recent cards like Sunspire Griffin, but the fact that it has Evasion means that your odds of actually activating Renown are much better. At that point, you end up with a 2/4, which is defensive enough to block just about any other flyer, dodges many of the removal spells, and still puts a decent clock on killing your opponent. It's certainly no Wingsteed Rider, but following the rotation of Standard this fall, this may be one of the better options at this slot in White Weenie.

Verdict: Borderline - I say stalwart is about right, aven if it's not ideal.


4. White gets yet another Renown creature in Topan Freeblade, a 2/2 for 1W that also has Vigilance. This is surprisingly similar to Knight of the Pilgrim's Road, save that it's slightly worse on offense but makes up for it by coming down a whole turn faster. Vigilance is one of the weaker evergreen abilities, and without any extra Toughness, doesn't really synergize well with this card. The whole key to making Renown good is the ability to easily connect with your opponent for damage, and Vigilance does nothing to advance that cause. So while you're certainly getting good value for such an inexpensive creature, on the whole I still don't think this is really worth playing.

Verdict: Myth - Feel free to toss this blade aside.


5. Akroan Sergeant seems to have what it takes when it comes to a Renown creature. A 2/2 with First Strike for 2R is already pretty good, and might by itself be borderline playable. Even better, First Strike makes it more difficult for your opponent to block and trade with it, increasing the odds that you'll be able to deal damage to him and trigger Renown. Connect with it just once, and you have a very respectable 3/3 First Strike, which is quite strong on either offense or defense in a format dominated by creatures with 2 Toughness or less. While this isn't fast enough to probably suit a RDW style archetype, it might warrant a spot in the recently popular RG Monsters deck or something similar.

Verdict: Borderline - I'd say he's worth following into battle.


6. Once again, my evaluation of these Renown cards hinges on how easy it is to get in to damage your opponent. While Firefiend Elemental lacks evasion, it does have Haste, giving you a decent chance to sneak through for 3 damage, then leaving behind a decent 4/3. This card seems poised right between Minotaur Skullcleaver and Lightning Elemental; the former has seen play in aggressive RDW style archetypes, while the latter is completely unplayable. Since Skullcleaver comes down a full turn earlier, it's generally better, so as long as it's in the format, I can't fathom any reason why you'd play this over it. Once Standard rotates, this might be able to serve a similar role, but the 4 mana casting cost is definitely a big drawback.

Verdict: Borderline - This probably isn't the fiend you're looking for.


7. Shambling Attendants proved that a beefy creature with Deathtouch can be quite a handful for your opponent, and Pharika's Disciple fits a similar role. Deathtouch is yet another form of evasion, once again helping you to activate Renown. Of course, there's a world of difference between having 5 Toughness and 3 Toughness, and in a dedicated Delve build, it wasn't unreasonable to play the Attendants for 4 mana or even less. On the whole, Shambling Attendants saw only limited play in the format, and I don't think this card is really any better. Green would much rather punch through with massive creatures than play a more controlling strategy using Deathtouch creatures.

Verdict: Borderline - I would send this disciple back to school for a few more years.


8. In this case, we've definitely saved the best for last. Rhox Maulers looks to be one of the better Green beaters we've had in some time. A 4/4 for 4G with Trample is already fairly respectable (I'm looking at you, Stampeding Rhino), with the four Toughness in particular being no small task for your opponent to deal with. But for the small price of having to deal combat damage to your opponent, these soldiers can grow into an impressive 6/6. Trample is particularly good here, since in this case it guarantees that even if it's chump-blocked it will still deal some damage to your opponent and thus still get the counters. While not quite as good as Stampeding Elk Herd, this should still see play in almost any deck with access to Green.

Verdict: Hit - I expect these to maul over my opponents like a ton of rocks.


B. Spell Mastery

Unlike the other mechanics in Magic Origins, Spell Mastery is found in all five colors. Like Delve, this mechanic encourages you to fill up your Graveyard with cheap spells as quickly as possible to take advantage of the additional effect; as such, it seems to have a natural synergy with those types of decks. They also will tend to be better in more Control archetypes, since you need to play a fairly high number of spells to be able to reliable trigger the effect on these cards.

1. Kytheon's Tactics is a significant upgrade on Inspired Charge and its variants, since it costs one less mana to cast, even if you do have to cast it at Sorcery speed. As such, even without Spell Mastery, this would see play in aggressive White Weenie or Boros token decklists. The additional effect from Spell Mastery is pretty mediocre, since most of the time when you cast a pump effect like this on your team you are swinging in for lethal damage anyway. It would have been interesting if this had actually been an Instant, since the Spell Mastery effect does nothing if your creatures have already attacked. In any case, this should see widespread play, but that has nothing to do with the mechanic itself.

Verdict: Hit - Buffing all your team and alpha-striking your opponent is excellent tactics.


2. Calculated Dismissal is one of the most interesting Cancel variants that I can remember. It's Mana Leak for an additional mana, and is much easier on your mana base since it only requires a single Blue to cast. Without Spell Mastery I would call that playable but not exciting. With Spell Mastery though, you get a very potent Scry 2, which is quite strong for the mana cost and almost as good as drawing a card. The fact that it isn't a hard counter means it's not as good in a true Control build. But in a more tempo-based Blue deck, particularly paired with Red or Black, this could end up being a very powerful effect. As such, I predict this will see plenty of play in the upcoming metagame.

Verdict: Hit - By my calculations, this is not a card you should dismiss.


3. If you can trigger Spell Mastery, Send to Sleep is identical to Sudden Storm for half the price. That's a pretty major upside. Without Spell Mastery, however, simply tapping down two creatures for a turn probably isn't worth the cost of the card, especially when compared to Crippling Chill, which always replaces itself and locks down its target for an additional turn. This is therefore much more narrow than the previous card, but would be excellent in the same type of Blue tempo deck that plays a lot of spells to get your opponent's creatures out of the way and reduce him or her to zero Life before they can marshal their defenses. It's nice to see how far we come at Common from the days of Twiddle being acceptable.

Verdict: Borderline - I hope my bad puns aren't sending you to sleep.


4. The value of Dark Dabbling is also highly dependent upon whether or not you can activate Spell Mastery. Using a whole card to Regenerate a creature is pretty mediocre, even if it does draw you a replacement card. On the other hand, using this card as a combat trick to instantly regenerate all of your creatures after blocks have been assigned can be a major blow-out to your opponent, allowing all of your creatures to survive battle while still dealing their damage to blocking creatures. In that case, it's not quite a one-sided Fog, since any of your creatures that died will still be tapped down during your opponent's next turn. But in the right deck, I could see this being a potent surprise to pull on an unsuspecting player.

Verdict: Borderline - When you pull this off it will certainly darken your opponent's day.


5. Unholy Hunger is what we've come to grudgingly accept as unconditional removal in Black at Common. This is essentially Flesh to Dust without the ability to ignore Regeneration, with the slight upside of gaining a couple points of Life if you manage to trigger Spell Mastery. Flesh to Dust certainly is a staple of most Sideboards at the least if the deck's mana base can support the double black casting cost, and since Regeneration rarely comes up, this card is at on par with that, and as such should see play in similar numbers. Once again, this is a card where Spell Mastery is incidental at best, and has no bearing on whether or not the card is worth including in your deck.

Verdict: Borderline - This makes me hunger for the days of Doom Blade!


6. Shock has been a staple of Core sets ever since 6th edition, where it replaced the venerable Lightning Bolt. Since then, there have been numerous variants, including my personal favorite Burst Lightning. Sadly, Fiery Impulse isn't nearly that good, since it only deals 3 damage at best and can only target creatures. In that sense, it's really more of a variant on Magma Spray that has the upside of being able to target 3 Toughness creatures later in the game. So while it's arguably better than Collateral Damage, this card is in a metagame with lots of great choices to deal damage to creatures and/or opponents, and I'm not sure this is good enough to really compete.

Verdict: Borderline - My first impulse is that I actually might prefer Shock.


7. Nissa's Piligrimage was one of my favorite Commons spoiled early, and it should be easy to see why. It's a ramp spell for 2G that allows you to search your library for multiple Forests, and then put one of them onto the battlefield tapped. Even if you don't meet the requirements for Spell mastery, this is already strictly better than Ranger's Path from Magic 2013, and is one mana cheaper as well. Given that Green often relies upon Fight cards and/or power-boosting combat tricks, it doesn't seem like it will be too difficult to fulfill the requirements for spell mastery. At that point, this card ramps you for one and thins out your deck of three lands, which is a great effect for a mere 2G. Assuming you have decent spells to ramp into, this looks pretty solid.

Verdict: Hit - I like where this elf is leading us.


C. Menace

Menace replaces the evergreen keyword Intimidate, giving a name for the first time to the creature ability that reads "X can't be blocked except by two or more creatures," which was first seen on Goblin War Drums. Technically this keyword appears on only three cards currently in print, only one of which is Common (although many other cards have their Oracle text altered now to comply with it).

Boggart Brute is a 3 Power creature for 2R, which is already borderline playable in the format, and is made all the better by the fact that it also can't be blocked except by multiple creatures. While its two Toughness makes it fairly mediocre on defense, on offense this should be able to get in for quite a bit of damage, particularly if you can use burn spells or Falter-type effects to keep your opponents creatures from being able to block it. Since it shares a slot with Minotaur Skullcleaver, that's a natural comparison. In the short term, the Skullcleaver is probably better, but in the long run I would anticipate this card doing more damage. It's not amazing, but certainly worth testing in Red-based aggro decks.

Verdict: Borderline - It's brutish, but not ineffective for all that.


D. Prowess

Prowess returns from Khans of Tarkir block as a new evergreen keyword for Blue. It's a natural fit in that color, since Blue tends to emphasize spells over creatures, and thus it's only natural that its spells should automatically enhance its creatures. We only find Prowess on two Commons in the set, and interestingly enough one of them isn't actually Blue. Does this mean that White and Red will also continue to have access to this ability in future sets?

1. A 3/3 Flyer for 5 mana in Blue is pretty typical for what we expect at Common, but in general has not proved to be in high demand in recent times. Ringwarden Owl is obviously superior to that, and the fact that it can easily grow to 4 Toughness is particularly good, since that allows it to dodge most removal. This would make a decent finisher for a Blue Control archetype, but is probably inferior to Prescient Chimera in that regard, which has itself not seen a whole lot of play in the metagame. So while this looks promising, this probably won't see much if any play until at least after Standard rotates, and perhaps not even then. It's not a bad card; but for 5 mana, it's just not good enough.

Verdict: Borderline - Owl warn you that this isn't as good as it looks.
 

2. Mage-Ring Bully is an interesting card. It's quite similar to Valley Dasher, which has seen some play in aggressive RDW style decks.  The trade-off between Haste and Prowess is an interesting one. On the one hand, this card is worse when it comes into play, since it will have to wait a turn to attack. On the other hand, if you manage to trigger Prowess multiple times over the course of the next few rounds, this card will eventually outstrip the damage output of the Dasher. For that reason, I like it better in a more tempo-oriented Izzet archetype than in the more typical RDW style build. And seeing as how such an Izzet archetype isn't really a thing in the current metagame, I'm not optimistic about this seeing much play.

Verdict: Borderline - You could bully me into simply writing this off as unplayable.
 

E. Scry

Scry returns yet again, and this time is firmly entrenched not only as an evergreen mechanic, but possibly as a method to alleviate the pain of mulligans across the formats of Magic. Scry is easily one of my favorite mechanics, giving you greater control over your draws and helping you sculpt your current turn based on information about what's coming next. Two reprints and two new Commons make use of Scry, as detailed below.

1. Read the Bones is back, guaranteeing that Black mages will continue to have access to this very strong effect. While not quite as good as the excellent Foresee, this is the next best thing, potentially allowing you to dig up to four cards deeper into your Library to find what you need. For such a powerful effect, 2B plus 2 Life seems a very reasonable price to pay. For just one extra mana, it's surprising how much better this is than Sign in Blood, even though the latter can be used to finish off your opponent. Both MonoBlack and Dimir Control decks have done very well in the current metagame, and it should come as no surprise that this card is a cornerstone of these archetypes.

Verdict: Hit - You don't have to read the bones to predict this will continue to see play.
 

2. When I first saw Lightning Javelin, I was sure it was a reprint from a previous set, since it is not only a simple design but also has what sounds like an iconic name. In any case, I hope this isn't a signal that Red is losing the ability to deal 3 damage for cheap at Instant speed, since even with Scry 1 this card is significantly worse than Lightning Strike. In fact, it's strictly worse than Bolt of Keranos, which is one mana cheaper but also at Sorcery speed.  Reduce the cost by 1, increase it to Instant speed, and you might have a card that would see play in some decks that want access to a lot of direct damage.  But this is just way too expensive for this effect to be worth a slot in the format.

Verdict: Myth - How bad this card really is struck me like a bolt of lightning.
 

3. Now Titan's Strength is what you want to play if you're looking for a powerful spell in Red with Scry. Although you do have to have a creature to play it, in many scenarios this can act just like a Lightning Bolt, dealing 3 damage just where you need it and even allowing you Scry in addition. And in a pinch, it can even be used to dodge removal or allow your creature to survive combat, thanks to small boost to Toughness you also receive. This card is probably one of the best combat tricks in the format right now, and thanks to being reprinted in Magic Origins, will continue to see widespread play in RDW, Boros, and most other decks with access to Red. I suspect we'll see plenty of this card in the weeks to come.

Verdict: Hit - Yes, that's right; I called it a hit. It's that strong.
 

4. Llanowar Empath is our newest Scry creature, with enough complexity that it probably could have been printed at Uncommon. Clearly a vanilla 2/2 for 4 mana is terrible in Green, so the deciding factor is how much value its enters-the-battlefield ability generates. First, you get to Scry 2, which is roughly equivalent to drawing a card in terms of card selection and tempo. Second, if after you Scry the top card of your Library is a creature, you get to draw that card. This essentially gives you three chances at that, meaning you should be able to pull it off more often than not. A 2/2 that read Scry 2 then draw a card would be quite good even at 4 mana. And while this isn't quite that good, it's close enough to make the cut.

Verdict: Borderline - I could empathize with someone wanting to call this a "hit."


III. Conclusion

So that's my review of the mechanic Commons in Magic Origins. 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 / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room.