If there is one thing that is a constant in my life, it is Magic. When I moved to college, I found Magic Online and Pauper. Grad school led me to my first stint writing. My first job led to my first apartment, which became draft central for a while. Now I am at a new job, but in an old place—back to where it all began in Brooklyn. As the leaves in Prospect Park turn, it is time to take a look at a new set.
Never has the turning of the seasons been as apt to a new set coming out, as autumn is to Innistrad.
Magic’s take on Gothic horror provides competitive Pauper with a few gems. As with any Eternal format, making waves in established decks requires a special sort of card. Spawning a new archetype requires a critical mass of cards to finally make the endeavor worth it, and not just a worse version of an existing deck.
When it comes to common cubes, the barrier for entry is far lower. As commons are largely designed to see heavy play in Limited, and cube is a Limited-style format, far more commons will impact Pauper cubes than the Daily Events on Magic Online. There are some straight upgrades, as well as some cards worth of consideration.
On to the cards that impact either Constructed or cubes, of the Pauper variety.
Cube: I have not done a Human count of my cube. That being said, this may be too strong. One thing that has traditionally kept tappers from being overpowering is the fact that they require white mana to activate. Because of this, there is a serious tension at times between the choice to tap a creature or advance board position. Taking away the colored requirement on tapping is huge, especially if there are not many Humans in the cube. The Priest will replace another tapper (probably Blinding Mage) but will be watched, in case the lack of mana restriction proves too strong.
Constructed: According to the database on Star City Games, there are close to 400 common Humans in white. Taking away cards that are not on Magic Online, we can assume around 300 Humans. If a deck exists that wants the option to either remove a creature momentarily or pump its own team, then this is the card.
However, even with the boost option, this loses out to Journey to Nowhere and other white removal. One of the big menaces is Goblins because of that deck’s ability to turn any creature on its side into extra damage via Goblin Sledder or Mogg Raider. Bonds of Faith, and other Pacifism effects, do not remove the creature from play, allowing it to activate regardless. There are just better options.
Cube: I like choices. If there are any Humans of note in your cube, I suggest this card. It is a versatile card that can be used on both offense and defense. You will probably get more play out of this if your cube features a significant tribal theme.
Constructed: Being replaced with a card that is almost a strict upgrade is enticing, but the chances of your opponent blocking the Traveler in a situation where it would be to your benefit are slim. This can be used for the forces of good, however, by adding equipment (or maybe a Rancor) that can be moved to the token after the fact.
All that being said, compare the Doomed Traveler to another popular card that generates token upon death: Mogg War Marshal. For two mana, Marshal generates two power and three power (although some is delayed) for four mana. Traveler is not as good on defense, only deferring one attack, rather than up to three. Similarly, it cannot be sacrificed for tribal bonuses (although there is Carrion Feeder floating around). If White Weenie goes with a Human slant, this card has a greater chance of seeing play.
Cube: One-drops have to be special, and this one has some nice qualities. Replacing itself is huge, and equipment is far more prevalent in Cube. The chance of creating a hard-to-deal-with Spirit is greater. Additionally, the Traveler does a great job of taking an early blow. All in all, a worthy addition to a Cube.
Cube: Azorius decks tend to want cards that generate tempo and can help push through for the last few points of damage. This fits the bill very well. Unlike Blinding Beam, Frost Breath, Choking Tethers, it can be used early to save life AND late to push through for the final few points. I also look forward to paying the full four upfront for a blowout.
Constructed: White has cheaper removal that does not restrict itself to attacking creatures. Most decks that attack also do so with multiple creatures or have a way to protect their lone attacker. The deck this would be best against, Infect, will rarely run an attacker into removal without Vines of Vastwood, and that is usually preceded by a Gitaxian Probe, just to be sure.
Cube: Cube is a whole different story. Rebuke is quite a strong card and can wreck attacks. Cast during an attack, Rebuke can make what would be a dominating attack one that leaves your opponent in tears.
Cube: Creatures are going to die in Limited games, and this entry into the transform mechanic is primed to take advantage. When paired with creatures like Sakura-Tribe Elder or Mogg Fanatic, Thraben Militia is a viable early threat and can rival some of green’s larger monsters. While too slow for Constructed, the Sentry/Militia will be a strong threat in cube.
Constructed: This is a build-around-me card. If you can load a deck full of creatures that die for some benefit (or plain old die), this can get out of hand fast. Numerous Boros style decks have been fringe playable in Pauper for years, and a deck featuring the Mob, Mogg War Marshal, Keldon Marauders, and Benevolent Bodyguard could generate some large threats.
Cube: See above. Creatures are going to die, and you might as well benefit from that. The Mob can create situation where chump blocking could actually hinder your opponent. This card adds tension to combat steps, which is a good thing.
Cube: This screams blowout waiting to happen. The stats are a little off for white in my cube, as it favors aggressive creatures. When examined as a spell, however, the Bell-Ringer becomes far more attractive.
Cube: Blue has a history of removal style auras that tap creatures on upkeep (see Narcolepsy). For one additional mana, this shuts down any untap shenanigans, which is fantastic considering most cubes feature utility creatures such as tappers and pingers.
Constructed: With the ability to swing for three damage on turn two, Delver is a potent offensive threat. When combined with blue’s library manipulation suite of Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm, it is not hard to see why this will be swinging for three rather early. Combined with Daze for early defense, the core of a deck comes together. The printing of Phantasmal Bear gives blue another strong one-drop, and Vault Skirge slots in as well. There may be times where you want to leave this back until turn two, after sculpting with a turn-one manipulator, in order to protect your investment.
Cube: While it is possible to create a Constructed deck based around transforming the Delver, it will be much harder to do so in cube. That being said, blue is often in need of strong, aggressive one-drops, and this will contend for that slot.
Constructed: Forget the flashback cost for a moment. As a pure draw spell, would paupers run this card? The answer is yes, in the right deck. One of the most popular draw spells is Deep Analysis, with which the Alchemy works quite well. Control decks have run a single Grim Harvest as a way to recur threats, and dumping one with an Alchemy can be good, especially late when your last creature is going to die to a removal spell.
Forbidden Alchemy is going to draw comparisons to Mystical Teachings, one of the best tutor engines in Pauper. Alchemy is an engine of a completely different sort, as it can allow you to get anything. Not being limited to instants or creatures with flash can allow a brewer to cherry-pick the best spells. I fully expect a different crop of toolbox decks to appear powered by Alchemy.
Cube: Repeatable card selection is strong. In cubes that allow Breath of Life and False Defeat, this will be a potent option for getting a fatty into the yard, and then finding something of use later on.
Constructed: While this card is slow, I can see it being an important card in U/R Cloudpost mirrors, where mana is abundant. Countering a key spell and returning a Cloudpost to your opponent’s hand (or a Glimmerpost to your own) could generate a huge tempo swing before the “I Win” turn. A card to keep your eye on.
Constructed: This card can beat down. The additional cost should not be too hard to pay, and then you get an incredibly robust beater. It survives Grasp of Darkness and the soon to be commonly played Victim of Night and then beats for four. Back in the day, Erhnam Djinn was a solid card with a far more significant drawback and would never be seen at common. If the previously mentioned blue aggro materializes as a deck, I expect to see this card as a top end to the curve.
Being a Zombie gives this card another boost, in that if Zombies ever becomes a deck and runs Islands, then this will be a key player, largely due to its size.
Cube: A 4/5 for four is a true beater. It seems that the goal of Innistrad is to make green search for even larger creatures to fill out its role in cube.
Cube: I am a huge fan of blue-based tempo decks, and this card seems right up my alley. If there were more creature stalemates in Constructed, and involving fewer creatures with enters the battlefield abilities, I could see this getting play in stacks of 60. Otherwise, I foresee this setting up alpha strikes in cube.
Constructed: People who know me know how much I tried to get Wormfang Drake to work. Stitched Drake is my savior in this department. A strong three-drop (not hard to cast with the help of say, Hapless Researcher) that can hold off most assaults and crack back late. The extra point of power over Spire Golem is enticing, especially for more aggressive decks (whereas control decks will stick with the potentially free flier).
Cube: A 3/4 flying creature for three mana. This should be in consideration for all cubes, as it can absolutely dominate the skies.
Cube: A neat way to recoup card advantage from a creature about to be taken out by a removal spell. One of black’s biggest weaknesses is its ineffectiveness against Pacifism-like effects. This is another tool in the fight.
Constructed: A flashback Lava Spike, albeit in the wrong color. If a Blightning Burn deck emerges, or any black deck that needs reach at a bargain basement cost, I can see this getting some play. It will be a pretty big stretch, however.
Cube: Another card that makes Totem-Guide Hartebeest stronger.
Constructed: I love Raise Dead effects, and ones that can get two creatures back are even better. Zombies might be a deck, if not U/B, then perhaps B/G on the back of Strength of Night (go ahead and hover over). Ghoulcaller’s Chant might find a home in that deck as a way to reload on creatures or removal spells, since Nameless Inversion is indeed a Zombie.
Cube: A fairly strong option for aggressive black decks in cube. Being able to generate six point life swings a turn can get out of hand quickly.
Cube: A one-drop that trades with absolutely everything. Very reminiscent of Perilous Myr, but in direct competition with Giant Scorpion, who does the same thing, but with a better chance of survival.
Constructed: If Vampires becomes a deck (which it might be, more on this later), this will be a serviceable two-drop.
Cube: Evasive two-drop in black. If your cube shies away from creatures with shadow, Interloper could serve as a replacement for Dauthi Horror. Otherwise, he slots in very nicely next door.
Constructed: This kills almost everything. Mono-Black Control will adopt some number of these unless Zombies, Werewolves, and Vampires become relevant. However, MBC can often be caught with its pants down if it packs the wrong removal. This might be a reason to investigate Zombies and Vampires as decks.
Cube: Victim of Night is a strong black removal spell. It deserves a slot in your cube.
Constructed: This is a strong two-drop and in the right color. Red can easily clear the path and help Neonate connect and grow strong. The biggest knock against this card is that it scales at a similar rate as Tendrils of Corruption. Apostle’s Blessing, however, is a boon to aggressive decks everywhere, and could go a long way towards ensuring a large Vampire.
Along with Interloper, Neonate will be a key card if Vampires is a deck. Combined with Pulse Tracker, Vampire Lacerator, Blightning, Vampiric Fury, and removal, a fairly quick and disruptive package can be assembled. Definitely a card to watch for Constructed.
Cube: If this connects once, it is great. More than once, and things get out of hand. Red, at least in my cube, is struggling to find two-drops that stick around and are relevant late. Neonate fills that role nicely.
Constructed: See above. If Vampires is a deck, I expect this to see a decent amount of play as a finisher.
The lack of Goblins hurt Innistrad’s red cards from making a splash in Constructed. Without tribal synergies or efficient burn (Brimstone Volley morbid trigger does not work well with the burn deck’s goal of aiming everything at the face), Innistrad red cards will be hard to fit in.
A word about Werewolves: They are slow, and the payoff is not nearly large enough to warrant not playing spells. More often than not, it seems that by the time these cards will transform for benefit, a comparable creature could easily be cast.
If old-school, counter-based control becomes a viable option, it is possible that cards such as Village Ironsmith | Ironfang and Villagers of Estwald | Howlpack of Estwald could see play, sneaking under counters only to flip into sizable threats, while also stockpiling spells to beat past defenses.
Constructed: One of the big limitations in Pauper is mana. Without true duals, aggressive decks tend to be constrained to one color. Green, while not an exception, has the best potential fixing with one-mana land fetch spells and now two off-color mana elves (Elves of Deep Shadow being the other).
The Pilgrim helps to fix G/W’s mana and sits nicely alongside Safewright Quest. G/W is already a fairly successful color combination thanks to the midrange aggro Armadillo Cloak deck, packing Llanowar Elves that can power out a turn-three Guardian of the Guildpact, and then give it the eponymous pants. Pilgrim will fight for this, as it can reduce the reliance on Plains and make the deck more consistent.
Avacyn’s Pilgrim may be the highest impact card for Pauper out of Innistrad, simply because of the wonders it can do for G/W mana bases.
Constructed: Green has a 5/5 four-drop in Blastoderm that sees no play. The biggest problem: no trample and no way to give it trample thanks to shroud. Festerhide Boar helps to solve that issue. A 5/5 for four is a bargain, and in the right deck, likely R/G aggro featuring Mogg War Marshal and Mogg Fanatic, it should not be hard to trigger morbid.
While R/G lacks the mana support of G/W, it can make up for that with powerful creatures and spells such as Firebolt and Arc Lighting, recouping some amount of card advantage. R/G also has access to strong one-drops in Wild Nacatl (albeit as a 2/2), Fanatic, and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. Two-drops could include Scab-Clan Mauler and Bloodcrazed Neonate, and with this many +1/+1 counters floating around, Volt Charge might find a home as a supplemental burn spell. Once Innistrad is released online, this will be one of the first decks I test.
Cube: A 5/5 trampler for four mana is a bargain and should be run in your commons cube. Even as a 3/3, it still can be a formidable force in the red zone.
Constructed: The only deck this would see play in is Mono-Green Post, and most of the time, that deck does not care about opposing creatures.
Cube: Fight poses an interesting philosophical question for cube: Does green get removal? I know that I will want to try Prey Upon in my cube, as it gives green decks that are not paired with black or red a real chance of removing a creature. I think this mechanic fits well in green, but fully understand if other people choose to leave this card out of their cubes.
Innistrad has some interesting cards for Pauper. It adds to certain tournament underrepresented tribes (Vampires, Zombies) while ignoring the most popular (Goblins) in the sake of flavor. As such, red suffers from a dearth of playable cards. Blue is the big winner, with one of the better draw spells in Pauper, as well as undercosted creatures.
Will any of these cards spawn new decks that last? The online release can’t come soon enough.
Keep slingin’ commons
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