• derek

Riches for the Pauper

With the imminent release of Ultimate Masters, only one eternal format is really being affected. While many Modern staples will lower in price, the only format to really get a shake up from the release is Pauper. For those that don't know, Pauper is a format dedicated to cards that were printed at common at any point in Magic's history. This means that cards printed in a supplemental reprint set like Ultimate Masters that were originally rare or uncommon but are now common can be utilized within the format. As an aside, this also means that cards printed in non-standard legal sets like Conspiracy, Battlebond, or the Commander products are also available in the Pauper format.

That said, with the release of Ultimate Masters we are seeing a grand total of 20 new cards entering the format. Twenty. That is a huge number from a reprint set, especially since these cards weren't originally intended to be printed at common. Not all are going to be meta breaking, but let's take a look at ones that have a shot.

I'm going to start with the elephant in the room. This card will change the balance of power in this format, and if you are up on the Pauper format at all you'll already know what it is. Foil, for 2UU you get an instant that reads "Counter target spell" ... But also reads, you may discard an Island card and another card instead of paying this card's mana cost. Wow. This is basically Pauper's Force of Will now. Any Ux Delver variants are going to eat this card up, especially with Gush in the format. Here is a possible line of play that you could see: You tapped out your previous turn for various reasons, your opponent plays a bomb, you Gush in response utilizing Gush's free cast mode by picking up two Islands, and then draw 2 cards. You then free cast Foil by discarding one or both of the Islands you just picked up, or by discarding an Island and another card. Because of this printing we could also potentially see UR or UB Delver Madness decks, utilizing Foil and other discard outlets to get cheap casts of cards like Fiery Temper, Dark Withering, Psychotic Haze, or Obsessive Search. Foil will change Pauper moving forward, at least until it (or its support) sees a ban in the format.

Speaking of UR Delver, we are also seeing a split card enter the format, Fire // Ice. For 1R Fire deals 2 damage divided up as you choose among any two targets. For 1U, Ice will tap down a creature and draw you a card. Both at instant speed, this gives UR Delver a very versatile spell that can help in many situations. Perhaps you need to remove two x/1 blockers, kill your opponent's combo creature at an x/2, deal the winning 2 damage to the chin, to stop a big attacker, or to simply draw a card. Fire // Ice is a welcomed inclusion to the format given its versatility.

We do have 2 interesting entries for a RW Aggro (or mono red; mono white) with Arena Athlete and Tethmos High Priest. Arena Athlete is competitively costed as a 2/1 for 1R, that prevents an opponent's creature from blocking whenever it is targeted with a spell you control, including Auras, Instants, and Sorceries. This is a great opportunity to run a low to the ground aggro list with pump support, getting in for huge chunks of damage by preventing blockers or to force your opponent into subpar blocks by removing their chump blockers. Arena Athlete has some good potential for the slot. Tethmos High Priest is a fantastic new top end for those low aggro lists as you can get back your threats every time it gets targeted. As a 2/3 for 2W, you'll find that it can survive a lot on the ground, and can be provide either more of a late game board presence or to give you surprise blockers during your opponent's attacks if needed. Tethmos High Priest is the real deal, and I can see it doing some amazing work.

For those who like reanimation strategies, Resurrection was down shifted in rarity. The previous uncommon provides a 4 mana reanimation spell, never really seen in Pauper up until this point. The closest unstipulated reanimation available is Stir the Grave, although it requires you to basically pay for the creature's converted mana cost+B. Otherwise, we have some stipulated reanimation in the format with Unearth (for B; returns a 3 converted mana cost or less), Mistmoon Griffin (3W; returns the top creature card of your graveyard when it dies), or Driver of the Dead (3B; returns any creature card with converted mana cost 2 or less to the battlefield when it dies.) We've never seen just a, pay 4 or pay 5, return target creature to the battlefield; at least, until now. This opens the door for us to play normal reanimation strategies, by pitching big creatures or annihilating eldrazi to the graveyard with spells like Faithless Looting, and then reanimating it for a huge discount in mana resources. I'm definitely excited to give it a try.

We also see a fantastic addition in Dimir Guildgmage. For hybrid U/B U/B, you get a 2/2 with the following abilities: 3U, target player draws a card; 3B, target player discards a card. These abilities can only be used at sorcery speed, but when you are in a UB control list, having the ability to draw or force an opponent to discard is amazing. Players tend to horde their hands in Pauper, as they wait for the opportune time to play their bombs. Being able to pick apart an opponent's hand, while having the ability to refill yours should not be discounted. This card is versatile and great.

We did also see another interesting card for a RB discard/madness list with Sparkspitter. for 2R you get a 1/3 with R, tap, and discard a card: create a 3/1 with trample and haste, sacrifice it at the end step. Being able to make a continuous Spark Elemental turn after turn can be a huge boon for you, and a way to finish the game on its own. The ability to turn on spells like Fiery Temper or Alms of the Vein, or some of the larger madness creatures is just pure gravy. We've got a decent amount of support for this type of deck, and I think Sparkspitter is a fantastic discard outlet for you, providing a multitude of value along the way. Do be wary, Sparkspitter does die to Lightning Bolt and similar cards that are legal in the format, and in one of the most popular archetypes out there, Mono Red Burn.

Golgari or Bx control decks also got a really nice finisher with this release. Canker Abomination costs 2(G/B)(G/B) for a 6/6 beater. That's one of the best rates I've seen on a Pauper playable card. It does come with a drawback, as it comes into play with a -1/-1 counter for each creature an opponent controls, but if you are playing a control game, it is reasonable to find a space where you can resolve this on an empty board, or near empty. Even if this comes into play as a 4/4 or a 5/5, that's still a strong creature for a cheap rate. The closest I've seen to this is Irontread Crusher, a 4 mana 6/6 vehicle that crews for 3, requiring another creature or two in order to attack with a 6/6. Canker Abomination is powerful, and when paired with cards like Gurmag Angler, can create a small army that is very difficult to deal with.

Lastly, we have Groundskeeper. This card is really interesting. By pairing it with cards like Scythe Tiger, Crop Rotation, Akki Avalanchers or Akki Blizzard-Herder, we have an interesting style of deck that can sacrifice your lands to the graveyard or pitching them with Faithless Looting or Cathartic Reunion types of effects, and getting them back with Groundskeeper or Harvest Wurm for value. We can also play it in a GB list utilizing interesting cards like Bog Down to dismantle our opponent's hands or Tremble for land destruction. Groundskeeper can allow us a little more versatility in this land-be-gone value engine and its an archetype I haven't really seen be played before. I'm excited to see what it brings.

All in all, I think Ultimate Masters did a lot for the Pauper format. It introduced 20 new cards, is inspiring new and exciting deck ideas and brought some great support to lower tier archetypes that needed a little support. Foil will probably turn into a mistake, but I do like that it was reprinted, it is a great card that was slowly creeping up in price. Not to mention, a Foil in foil is going to look great. I can't wait to add it to the collection.