A Pauper Path Through Nyx

Check out Alex’s review of Journey into Nyx for Pauper to see which cards from the new set might have a home in the commons-only format!

Journey into Nyx has made its way into our dirty meat mitts, but the digital world has to wait another two weeks for the same privilege. While purveyors of paper Pauper can start putting their plans into action immediately, many more must wait until May 9th for the first cards from the newest set to begin trickling in. This gives us time to experience the cards in the physical realm and form some more cohesive thoughts.

The final set from Theros block does not supply Pauper with a ton of great options. I previously provided some thoughts on ways to make the format better. While Journey into Nyx may not hit my desired tropes, it does provide some very interesting options, most notably in the cycle of cards with strive.

Strive is an interesting ability. The single mana effect on three of these spells—Ajani’s Presence, Rouse the Mob, and Nature’s Panoply—are all reasonable. The bonus comes later in the game when the caster could get two or three copies. The fact that these spells scale and do so in a way that has utility at key points in Pauper games makes them intriguing.

Nature’s Panoply does not have a home at the moment. Stompy, the current green aggro deck of choice, plays as a hybrid of Fish and Burn, trying to protect important creatures with spells like Vines of Vastwood while dealing twenty damage as quickly as possible with Groundswell and its ilk. While the Battlegrowth on steroids is nice, it does not have a home here.

Ajani’s Presence is a potential option for White Weenie. This is a deck that goes wide with cards like Squadron Hawk. It also runs far more lands than other aggro decks (averaging 22 to the other beatdown decks’ eighteen or so). This makes turning on strive more attainable. The issue here is that White Weenie tends to thrive because it is so resilient to removal naturally. The aforementioned Squawkers, Loyal Cathar, Kor Skyfisher, and Doomed Traveler all come with insurance built in. Dedicating a full slot to Ajani’s Presence in White Weenie appears to be a waste.

This leaves Rouse the Mob. If we’re going to run this card, it will not be for its ability to hit multiple creatures—Dynacharge can do that job for less. Rather, Rouse the Mob adds the all-important trample on top of the power bonus. This makes it closer to a burn spell than a card like Dynacharge or Titan’s Strength. At the basic cost Rouse the Mob is akin to Shock, which is fine. At four mana it approaches Lightning Blast, which won’t set anything on fire but is still acceptable.

Where this card points me however is toward an aggressive deck with high-power creatures (of which red has many). Gore-House Chainwalker and Plated Geopede have always been just outside the realm of playable, while Foundry Street Denizen and Kruin Striker have been found in winning lists. When it targets a creature with three or more, Rouse the Mob has the potential to be better than Lava Spike.

Exploiting this can be a challenge, but thankfully Journey into Nyx provides the perfect complement in Satyr Hoplite. Out of all the cards in the set, this one makes me the most excited. I have recently been a proponent of Madcap Skills based red decks, and this slots right in. Between the furry Hoplite and Akroan Crusader, the deck has access to eight creatures that turn Madcap Skills into five damage on turn 2. Considering that a current strategy revolves around resolving Nylea’s Presence and Tribal Flames, two-card five-damage combos can work, and this one shaves a whole color.

While other cards haven’t piqued my interest as much as the red additions, a few caught my eye. The barrier to entry in Pauper is getting higher and higher for new cards. As an Eternal format, new cards have to do something quite special and have an aggressive casting cost to make an impact.

Oppressive Rays is just such a card. Similar to Gelid Shackles, this card excels at buying white decks time in the early game. A fine turn 1 answer to Delver of Secrets, Oppressive Rays has fantastic utility against green decks. A key card in both Elves and Stompy is Quirion Ranger, and this reduces its efficacy. Elves also relies heavily on Timberwatch Elf, and Oppressive Rays makes activating the Legions standout more difficult (although by no means impossible). Rather than being a revelation, Oppressive Rays provides another option for white decks alongside Sunlance and Journey to Nowhere.

Every set I try to make black aggro a thing, and every set I am disappointed. Bloodcrazed Hoplite is just a hero in black, but it still makes me want to try to make black aggro work. Somehow I am going to need to have restraint this time. Why? Because black is not the beatdown in Pauper.

Red and green are much better at being the aggressor in Pauper due to their supplemental spells (burn and pump respectively). Black does have access to some power boost effects like Boon of Erebos (and could get more if this trend continues). However, it is still doubtful that these spells will ever match the damage output of the Gruul Clans. Unless that time comes to pass, traditional black beatdown decks will simply be violating the Prime Directive. It’s a shame because Bloodcrazed Hoplite seems like a really sweet card.

Humbler of Mortals is not a card that I never thought I would like for competitive Pauper. As a six-drop, it has some limited use. Its constellation ability is unique in that it can give multiple creatures trample, which is not often seen in the format (yet another reason I’m enamored with Rouse the Mob). The best creatures to grant the ability to trample are big dumb green ones. It just so happens I used to champion a deck that made use of big dumb green creatures and good number of enchantments to boot:

Eldrazi Green could act as a home for one or two copies of Humbler of Mortals. It is not hard to power out six-drops as early as turn 3 in this deck. The hope however is to resolve it later with other large monsters on the field of battle. While Auorchs Herd has natural trample, there are other options for green monsters that do not, such as Nessian Asp and Sentinel Spider. While a stretch, I can see a metagame where Eldrazi Green wants access to such an effect, specifically since it can be fetched with Fierce Empath.

Here are a few quick hits to round out the review.

My Pauper pickup list for Journey into Nyxis:

4 Oppressive Rays
4 Oreskos Swiftclaw
2 Cloaked Siren
4 Bloodcrazed Hoplite
3 Font of Return
3 Grim Guardian
4 Rouse the Mob
4 Satyr Hoplite
4 Font of Fertility
2 Humbler of Mortals

Journey into Nyx has a high concentration of cards that rely on enchantments working in concert to maximize their effect. One Pauper deck cares about this card type, and that is Hexproof. None of these cards support that strategy, so any brew that wants to optimally use some of these new cards would have to be built in a new direction. If Auramancer based decks become a viable option, I would look at the following cards as key pickups.

The final chapter in Theros block has some sweet cards and looks fascinating for most of Magic. The commons fill their role and appear to set the stage for an interesting Limited format. Due to the needs of Draft (and let’s face it, Draft is sweet), Constructed Pauper lacks any true standouts and instead only gets role players. Yet as the card pool grows, I would not be surprised to one day reach a critical mass when I might have to make a return journey to this set.