Bestowing Pauper

This week Alex Ullman talks about the potential he sees in the bestow creatures of Theros in the current Pauper metagame.

At heart I am a deckbuilder. As I have said many times in the past, I was attracted to Pauper because there was so much space for deck discovery. For a long time new sets brought new strategies to the format, and times were good. Then Storm decks and Cloudpost decks were refined to the point where the format became stagnant. And well all know how that turned out.

Now building decks is back in vogue—just in time for Theros to be widely circulated online. The metagame is starting to take shape (shameless plug: check out my Facebook page for regular metagame updates), and as predicted the format is slowing down. While Affinity and Nivix Cyclops decks can still win in rapid fashion, the rise of black control decks and removal (both targeted and Diabolic Edict style) means that even though these decks can still be lightning quick they are not just steamrollers.

When I wrote my review of Theros, I did not hide my feelings about Hopeful Eidolon and Leafcrown Dryad in Auras (aka the Slippery Bogle deck). I felt that these two cards would provide a shot in the arm that could boost the threat count while also pumping Ethereal Armor. I did not even consider these cards for other decks. I was wrong.

Pauper is becoming a format where attacking and blocking matters, and creatures with bestow fill an important niche—they can make your army bigger without costing you a card. While size has only recently started to matter in Pauper, card economy has always been in style. Creatures tend to be the most important card type in Pauper. Think about every major archetype and you will realize how much creatures matter—they do all the work. Since they are commons, most of these creatures are of comparable size.

This is just one reason why Chittering Rats is so good. Not only does it deny a draw step, but it also trades with a significant number of threats. Going down the path of Erebos for a moment, this also explains why Cuombajj Witches and Gray Merchant of Asphodel are seeing so much screen time right now. These creatures have a profound effect on the game while also trading with or bricking threats. I have long advocated cards like Flayer Husk and Copper Carapace because they allow your creatures to survive combats. But adding these cards lowers your threat density, and unless you are on the Leonin Den Guard deck, these cards are pretty mediocre.

Enter bestow. Now your buff also counts toward your threat count. Sure, a 1/1 or 2/2 body isn’t that impressive, but every little bit counts. Even a +1/+1 bonus can swing multiple combats. Like Equipment, creatures with bestow have a built-in counter to removal by surviving their target being eliminated. And after the enchanted creature is gone, they leave behind a chump blocker or another creature that can be bestowed.

Bestow creatures are three cards in one—their creature form, their Aura form, and then a second creature form that is resilient to removal. In a format with a relatively even power level, this is huge. Not only that but when your creature is bestowed, it will be able to trade with one or two creatures from your opponent. Each enchantment creature has the potential to be a Mulldrifter.

Now, you can’t just jam any bestow card into a deck and call it a day. Right now the only two I have had experience with are Hopeful Eidolon and Leafcrown Dryad. The key element here is that they both have a bestow cost of a reasonable four mana. This is important because most beatdown and aggressive midrange decks top out their creatures at three or four, which means that these two can be played on curve. Baleful Eidolon might be a sweet blocker, but I have yet to see a deck that wants to pay five for +1/+1. The other nymphs have bodies and abilities that do not matter enough to warrant including them in your deck.

Hopeful Eidolon and Leafcrown Dryad both have relevant abilities for their respective decks as well. Lifelink can swing races and helps the Plains mage build their own Baneslayer Angel on a Kor Skyfisher. Leafcrown Dryad on turn 2 trades with almost every standard threat from Delver (save Spire Golem) and when bestowed can tussle with any flyer in the format. Dryad represents a threat that makes sense in the maindeck while being an anti Insectile Aberration bullet. Oh, and it also gives +2/+2, which is just plain good in most matchups.

As mentioned, these two creatures are also resilient to removal. Currently one of the top decks of the format is Mono-Black Control featuring quite a bit of removal and a Gray Merchant of Asphodel endgame. Being able to make your creatures large enough to punch through the Merchant while also helping to mitigate the value of a Doom Blade means that creatures with bestow are very well positioned at the moment.

Bestow creatures are also removal-repelling buffs. While many sideboards are packing artifact hate to help handle Affinity, comparatively few run targeted enchantment removal. Who will be laughing when your opponent looks at their sideboard Smash to Smithereens and slumps their shoulders while you bash in with your bigger critter? Not the person with dead sideboard cards.

So what do decks featuring these Draft all-stars look like?

The first implementation of this idea came in White Weenie. While not the most popular deck, White Weenie is certainly doing well for itself. It has almost as many 4-0 finishes as it does 3-1, whereas most decks’ 3-1s far outnumber their undefeated column. The favorite of Paul Rietzl fans everywhere is doing good work in Pauper for many reasons.

First, it has a package of resilient creatures already—Doomed Traveler, Loyal Cathar, and Squadron Hawks are armies unto themselves. Kor Skyfisher is a source of phantom card advantage, rebuying creatures like Icatian Javelineers and resetting an Unhallowed Cathar to make him Loyal once more. Finally, the duo of Razor Golem and Guardian of the Guildpact are solid endgame plans—one is nigh invincible, and the other just so happens to fight most of the creatures in the format very well, especially when carrying a Bonesplitter.

Hopeful Eidolon fits nicely into White Weenie’s plan. Playing an Eidolon on turn 1 is not a sunk cost when Kor Skyfisher shows up to pick up the Spirit to be bestowed. Kor Skyfisher also allows the Eidolon to be moved around, albeit at a high cost, mimicking Equipment. Hopeful Eidolon also wields Bonesplitter like a master, demanding an answer. In fact, if it were not for the presence of Bonesplitter, running Hopeful Eidolon would probably not be worth the cost. Currently, with the presence of Izzet Blitz and Affinity, the ability to make six-point life swings as early as turn 2 is too valuable to pass up.

Pauper grinder Jason Sirichoke put my thoughts on Hopeful Eidolon to good use. Jason managed to go 3-1 in a non-recorded Daily Event on October 10th with the following list:

Aside from Hopeful Eidolon this is a fairly stock White Weenie list. The Eidolon does provide an advantage in the mirror, letting you make favorable trades. Running two seems correct since you are okay drawing them early but would much rather pay four to bestow one of your Spirits then end up with a 1/1. I can see upping the count to three in a very aggressive metagame or if you want to start running some number of Ethereal Armors (ya know, as a combo with Journey to Nowhere).

The other side of this Selesnya coin is Leafcrown Dryad. The Dryad is a very respectable creature on its own at Runeclaw Bear statistics. The +2/+2 buff is also larger than the bonuses most sane players run in the format, meaning that even a lowly Elvish Mystic can fight a Kor Skyfisher and win the day. Thankfully, there is a green deck out there that loves creatures that can be played out on curve while providing a bonus late: Stompy.

The Green Machine has been experiencing a bit of a swoon, seeing its numbers dip to the lowest point in months. This is in part due to the omnipresence of removal at the moment. When Stompy was at its apex, Temporal Fissure and Cloudpost were everywhere, and black instants that read "destroy target creature" were not very popular. Today, well, they’re the belle of the ball. Stompy can adapt but cannot pull the gymnastics that White Weenie can for fair metagames. While Young Wolf and Safehold Elite fight removal admirably, Leafcrown Dryad gives the deck another dimension (and one that hates on Delver of Secrets to boot).

Once again Jason took a standard aggressive list and made it better with bestow. Here the mechanic allows a Skarrgan Pit-Skulk to crash through unimpeded or makes Silhana Ledgewalker a larger threat. On a Shinen of Life’s Roar, it helps the Saviors Spirit play the role of The Abyss while leaving behind a 2/2 beater. On a Nettle Sentinel, it means a 4/4 vigilant beatstick. Leafcrown Dryad allows Stompy to go big. When combined with Hunger of the Howlpack, Stompy becomes less a swarm deck and more one that just has big threats that must be answered. And that is a good thing.

Leafcrown Dryad provides an additional way to fight Doom Blade. Black control is a natural predator of Stompy, but the ability to have a 3/3 or 4/4 threat that leaves behind a 2/2 means that it less easy to make Stompy a Victim of Night. That does not mean that fighting Swamps is easy currently—just slightly less uphill. Small victories and all that.

Bestow is one of the more exciting new mechanics for Pauper in recent memory, but what about the other five commons with the keyword? Let’s go around the circle:

Observant Alseid is like a very expensive Loyal Cathar that leaves behind a blocker instead of a 2/1 that can’t block. On the downside, the only white deck currently has no need for a five-mana +2/+2 effect. If the format progresses to a point of Plains-on-Plains violence, I could see some decks running one of these to help in the mirror, but it would be after maxing out on Hopeful Eidolons.

In blue we have Nimbus Naiad, which is just the wrong side of playable with base Wind Drake stats. At five mana the bonus provided is very strong and is reminiscent of Elspeth, Knight Errant’s second ability. Currently, the best blue decks do not care about creature size. However, they might start soon. With Myr Enforcer, Carapace Forger, Razor Golem, Spire Golem, Nivix Cyclops, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel all having four toughness, any reasonable creature wearing the Naiad could trade or come out ahead in combat. As long as these creatures are present, the creature form of Nimbus Naiad is reasonable enough that its alternate form might be worth running.

Oddly, Baleful Eidolon is the creature of which I am most hopeful. Deathtouch is an underutilized ability in Pauper, and while five mana might be pushing the envelope for +1/+1 and the ability to snipe any adversary in combat, it does represent (at least) a two-for-one. Black is also the best color at retrieving dead things and casting them again, meaning one Baleful Eidolon can take out quite a few enemies with the help of Grim Harvest. One of the more popular decks today runs Swamps alongside Trinket Mage and Viridian Longbow (and other one-mana artifacts). It is well within reason that this deck could side in Baleful Eidolon as a way to machine gun bad guys with a Longbow and then stick around to apply the beats.

As optimistic as I am, I have a hard time seeing a scenario where Cavern Lampad or Spearpoint Oread see play. Their base bodies are not impressive at cost, and six mana for bestow is just too much.

Bestow is an ability to watch out for as the block continues to be revealed. While five mana is going to be pushing the limits, any creature with a reasonable primary function and a bestow cost of four or less will be worth consideration. And I for one am praying at the pantheon of Theros (and Renton) that we get more of these enchantment creatures in the future.

Keep slingin’ commons-


SpikeBoyM on Magic Online




An Introduction To Pauper

The Colors of Pauper: W U B R G

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