A Pauper Review Of Dark Ascension

Alex evaluates Dark Ascension with an eye towards what will succeed in Pauper formats. Will any of these become powerhouses of the future?

The Magic-sphere is abuzz with the potential reemergence of B/W Tokens, the strength of Strangleroot Geist, and the hose-tastic Grafdigger’s Cage. Paupers should be excited as well, because Dark Ascension holds a bounty. Undying, although not pushed at common, changes the dynamic of the format because it puts another dent in the armor of one-for-one removal. There are two potential tools for combo decks, and of course a significant number of cards for Pauper cubes everywhere. Without further ado…

Elgaud Inquisitor: It would be easy to say this card is just for cubes, but that is not doing it justice. Being a white four-drop, it is going to draw comparisons to Guardian of the Guildpact. Guardian is much harder to kill (nigh impossible) but it can die. Guardian’s extra point of toughness means it can brawl with a Spire Golem and live. Inquisitor has an ability not often seen on commons in lifelink. It also comes with an extra creature upon death. Doomed Traveler has seen play in certain White Weenie decks, but it costs a reasonable amount for the original body. The Inquisitor, sadly, is a hair expensive for competitive play—at 1WW, it would be a strong contender. That being said, lifelink can swing games, and many WW decks already pack Bonesplitter. In a world where removal is aimed at Guardian, it makes sense to turn to this newcomer as a way to get more value out of killing a four-drop.

Cubes will welcome Elgaud Inquisitor. Lifelink is far more relevant in Limited, where races involving creatures that cost four are more common. It also has a built-in defense against removal. Like many creatures in this set, it can push cube matches towards longer attrition battles.

Gather the Townsfolk: This card looks a lot like Dragon Fodder, except it does not make a relevant creature type. Dragon Fodder sees sporadic play in Goblin decks, but has fallen out of favor. Humans have no analog to Goblin Sledder in white. If fateful hour is triggered, however, the paltry two becomes a robust five. White also has access to the potent token tools of Raise the Alarm and Cenn’s Enlistment. Is this enough to build a viable token deck?

Unlike other formats where tokens are viable, there is no Crusade effect in Pauper. There are no reliable Overruns either. The best cards available are Sigil Blessing, which is less than impressive, and Goblin Bushwhacker, which is better but harder to cast. Green provides an army of token producers, but Goblin Bushwhacker can be rebought with Kor Skyfisher and the like. If a token deck is ever viable in Pauper (which is a long shot, as long as there are one-toughness sweepers like Seismic Shudder and Nausea running around), it will likely be in one of these two color combinations.

The other problem arises from going to five life. With Storm, Goblins, Burn, MBC, and U/R Post all capable of dealing five in a turn easily, the benefit of a small army will not be enough to outweigh the risk.

In cube, Gather the Townsfolk is a strong pick. Not only is it card advantage, but it can be a blowout in the late stages of the game, and all these humans carry equipment rather well.

Loyal Cathar: Another white creature that replaces itself. It will not be too hard to imagine a White Weenie Value All-Stars deck filled with Squadron Hawks, Doomed Travelers, and this guy. In the original builds of WW, Order of Leitbur existed as a way to fight Mono-Black Control. As the format has shifted, Order has fallen out of favor. Cathar, while not as good against black, still does a fine job of eating a removal spell and coming back for more. The mana cost is not prohibitive in the deck, and vigilance matters in a format where attacking and blocking is commonplace. Decks that pack removal are hard pressed to find slots for more, and creatures like Cathar scoff at Doom Blade. In the wake of Dark Ascension, it would make sense to see a rise in removal such as Unmake, Magma Spray, and Yamabushi’s Flame.

Cathar’s resilience and aggressive nature makes it a natural fit for white in cubes, as that color can be starved for card advantage at times.

Midnight Guard: A nice filler card for cubes. Guard, however, is part of an arbitrarily large combo with Presence of Gond. Is this combo good enough? It runs afoul of the same problem as token strategies, in that every sweeper can kill the army before it can attack. Unlike Splinter Twin, neither aspect has flash. Even so, both green and white have ways to protect this combo, including Vines of Vastwood and Standard Bearer. It is not hard to imagine such a deck:

A rough sketch, but it has acceleration, ways to protect, tutor for, and regrow combo pieces. It is possibly too slow, but any “infinite combo” deserves investigating.

Niblis of the Mist: A fine flying creature for cubes. If Dawnglare Invoker proves too dominant, this is a more balanced replacement.

Silverclaw Griffin: Too expensive for constructed play, the Griffin makes a fine finisher for cube drafts. First strike means it can tussle with most flyers short of Errant Ephemeron, and come out on top.

Headless Skaab: In every set, it seems that Wizards likes getting people to write about the “best Horned Turtle ever.” Headless Skaab may not have Turtle’s stats, but the cost is just right. The recent bevy of blue decks have shown that it is not hard to get a creature into the graveyard, so it is not unreasonable to believe this Zombie can come down as early as turn 3 and then hold off all sorts of hordes while also taking out opposing forces. It is large enough to be a significant offensive threat once the tide has turned. It will also fill a similar role in cubes, giving blue exactly what it needs—more strong creatures (/sarcasm).

Screeching Skaab: This card is quite the enabler. The decks that want to fill the graveyard tend to be aggressive in nature, relying on cards such as Stitched Drake, making the two power for two mana quite relevant. Blue is also adroit at utilizing the discard pile as a resource thanks to Accumulated Knowledge, Deep Analysis, Think Twice, and even Mnemonic Wall. In the right deck, Screeching Skaab is all upside.

One of my personal favorite ways to take advantage of blue’s graveyard spells is by meshing them with green. Wild Mongrel provides an easy outlet, and Werebear means having a full graveyard is a huge bonus. A Dark Ascension version of the deck might look something like this:

This deck wants to lay an early threat and protect with counters. Screeching Skaab helps this deck fill the graveyard for Werebear as well as giving you a chance to “draw” on of your flashback spells.

Stormbound Geist: Undying is a strong ability. This is an on-curve body the first time, and better the second. Due to the prevalence of Spire Golem, this card will probably be relegated to cubes.

Thought Scour: Much like Screeching Skaab, this card will help fill the yard. Pauper already has access to Mental Note, which has yet to see play. If a deck ever wants more Mental Notes or is a dedicated mill strategy, this should see play.

Black Cat: I mention this card because it is a Zombie. Ghoulcaller’s Chant is a potent spell for Zombie tribal decks. However, those decks tend to lack creature-based disruption. They have access to cards like Carrion Feeder and Nantuko Husk, meaning that Black Cat might find a home if such a deck ever comes to fruition.

Highborn Ghoul: Speaking of Zombies, this card is one that the deck needs to have any chance. Zombies has lacked an aggressive two-drop—Blind Creeper and Wretched Anurid just do not cut it. A starting point for a Zombie deck could look something like this:

Reap the Seagraf: While it does create multiple tokens, the competition for U/B cards in Pauper cubes is very high. If Dimir needs more creatures or weaker spells, this could warrant a slot. I will be testing it over Architects of Will.

Tragic Slip: With more and more one-toughness creatures making waves in Pauper, Tragic Slip should find ways into decks that can fully take advantage of the morbid trigger. This might be a key card in Suicide Black decks, which often run Fume Spitter as a way to take out daunting blockers.

Undying Evil: I was ready to ignore this card until a member of the PDCMagic.com boards compared it to Momentary Blink. While there is no flashback, the concept is the same: get a second use out of “enters the battlefield” effects. While Blink can be used twice, it requires two specific colors to do so. Undying Evil can allow a creature to come back stronger—a 3/3 Chittering Rats does not seem too shabby. Unlike Unearth, Undying Evil can hit any creature, not just the cheap ones. Even with all this, it is hard to see a card that actively wants your creatures to die to be effective. The payoff can be huge—see Mulldrifter as a 2UB 3/3 flying draw four—but risky if one piece is taken out.

Faithless Looting: Careful Study saw play in older versions of Storm Combo. Before Sign in Blood, these decks had a higher reliance on blue card draw and many of the filtering effects (Chromatic Star, Manamorphose) had to be managed with greater care to ensure adequate blue mana to filter through the deck. Since then, the majority of Storm decks have migrated to straight Izzet. Faithless Looting could herald a Rakdos Flavor of Storm. Black and Red have all the rituals, including the mana-positive Cabal Ritual, and Faithless Looting does have flashback to help up the storm count. It’s possible this version will be able to survive on fewer lands than Izzet Storm, but at the same time will lack cards like Dispel out of the board to help protect the combo.

Fires of Undeath: Rakdos sections of the cube can be starved for situational removal. This card mimics Strangling Soot, but has the upside of being able to take out 20% of a life total late. That option should give it a chance in Pauper cubes.

Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil: Forget that this is not a Goblin for the time being. Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil has the ability to kill Delver on turn 1, as well as every potential turn 1 play from Infect (barring double Lotus Petal into Cystbearer/Rot Wolf). This is huge. Even if the opposing creature is saved, there is a creature on the board, either to block or start cracking back. Sure, Daze is not your friend—but really, Daze is no one’s friend.

Now, Goblins does have a history of playing non-Goblin creatures, such as Jackal Familiar and Hissing Iguanar. Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil is the kind of creature that can really do some damage on the draw, and might just start finding its way into sideboards of aggressive and midrange red decks for that reason. The inability to profitably cast Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil turn 1 on the play is a liability, but the benefits of going second with it in hand are enough to warrant consideration.

Hinterland Hermit: Red is always on the lookout for strong creatures for cubes. Hermit does a fine job of being a Goblin Piker, but when flipped it can prove problematic. Werewolves have played well in my cube so far, and this one will get its shot as well.

Torch Fiend: For any deck that wants to beat down while also fighting artifacts, this might be your card. Unlike Manic Vandal, you can control when to blow up the Fiend. Unlike Hearth Kami, it will not cost you an arm and a leg to take out Myr Enforcer. With Affinity and White Weenie both leaning on artifacts, red decks that want to play with the graveyard might want to try this out. It is cheap enough to Unearth, after all.

Dawntreader Elk: A fine card for cube—a Sakura-Tribe Elder that can actually cause some damage. This will make the pull of green stronger (in that it requires green to activate), while still allowing multi-color decks.

Scorned Villager: This will fight Werebear for a slot in the cube. While green decks are never in a rush to threshold, the boost these decks would get from a double Elf would be huge. Accelerating into a turn 3 Stampeding Rhino could end cube matches rather quickly.

Wild Hunger: While the cost on both ends of his spell are high, the ability to gain card advantage (and potentially end the game) in R/G makes this an attractive cube option.

Young Wolf: Now this is a one-drop! Running Wolf out there on turn 1 is not a huge risk, as any removal will just make it come back stronger. Stompy decks have been making a comeback, and those lists are pretty tight. Basking Rootwalla is a competing one-drop, and if these lists want to go lighter on land, Young Wolf might be a replacement (or if MBC becomes a larger part of the field). As of now, the Wolf may be riding the sideboard pine. Probably not for long, as a Rancored Wolf is something rather intimidating. And if a Volt Charge deck is ever discovered, this would be an ideal one-drop.

Haunted Fengraf: A land that doubles as a Gravedigger is rather impressive. While the Fengraf is rather bad in a deck full of creatures, this land could serve to reduce the number of threats that Ulamog’s Crusher control decks will run while not taking up extra spell slots. Haunted Fengraf might also make Tilling Treefolk an active card, as the “Life from the Loam that couldn’t” has always been an aspiring card advantage engine, but this is probably too slow.

Well, that ends another look at the impact commons of a new Magic set. From here on out, Pauper is synced up with the other formats in that it will only be receiving new cards (thanks to all sets now being available on MTGO). Innistrad launched a whole new deck in Delver Blue. Will Dark Ascension repeat this feat? Sound off in the forums!

Keep slingin’ commons,


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