[Editor's note: This review was written before the ban list announcement.]
Gatecrash is upon us. A new set release is an exciting time for Pauper because it heralds new decks. Unlike Standard, the format is fairly well established, and new decks only pop up when new cards are injected into the system. Return to Ravnica gave us Aura Aggro (and also blessed Modern and Standard with it), so it is time to take a look at the second set in the second Ravnica block and see what the commons hold, starting with the new guild mechanics.
Battalion is based on attacking, which is fine for Pauper where creatures are basically free to attack. Being Boros, the mechanic is limited to red and white, or more accurately, Goblins and White Weenie. This bodes well for battalion since both of these decks attack with multiple creatures on a regular basis. Neither of the common red creatures are Goblins, and neither are good enough on their base stats to warrant inclusion in a beatdown deck. Bomber Corps comes close, but one point of power means that you only want it in the best case scenario—most other times it is a Squire.
White, on the other hand, has Daring Skyjek. Blade of the Sixth Pride is available, and this is almost strictly better. It suffers from the one toughness, especially in a world that features Electrickery. That being said, many White Weenie decks are packing Veteran Armorer to combat the Izzet standout. Certain White Weenie decks have been eschewing their usual top end of Guardian of the Guildpact for a lower average mana cost and more aggressive strategy, usually dropping a land or two (or five). These decks tend to aim at activating War Falcon, and Skyjek does just that.
Wojek Halberdiers is a three-power creature for two mana, which is enough to warrant consideration on its own, and the ability to get first strike is nothing to sneeze at. At the moment there is no regularly successful Boros deck in Pauper, but Gatecrash gives the deck tools.
As with any enemy color pair, a good place to start looking is the Eventide Mimics. Battlegate Mimic turns into a relatively hard to stop 4/2 first strike, capable of taking down just about any blocker in the format. From there, the start of a deck almost builds itself (mostly due to the need for a critical mass of Boros cards).
This strategy combines rather well with landfall, hinging on Kor Skyfisher. With Skyfisher, you want to be able to replay a gold card, but if you have to replay a land, you get bonuses on your Zendikar standouts. Other options for this deck include going all in on the Mimic with Ceredon Yearling and Scourge of the Nobilis.
The Gruul mechanic of bloodrush makes jamming a deck full of creatures not a laughable idea. Slaughterhorn as a creature is passable in Stompy and is reasonable as a pump spell. It is never a dead draw and is perfectly fine as a four-of due to the ability to act as an almost Giant Growth. Some Stompy lists run Garruk's Companion, and the 'Horn slots in nicely, doing two jobs for the added price of one colorless.
Scorchwalker provides an interesting option. As just a 5/1, this card is unimpressive. In attacking decks, the ability to get five extra damage in for three mana is attractive. I am not sure if it is good enough on its own, but the ability to also be a 5/1 in the late game means I will at least try Scorchwalker when I get my hands on it. Skinbrand Goblin gets points by virtue of creature type, and the ability to be both a pump spell and an activator of Goblin Cohort means it also warrants consideration in for the little red men.
Cipher is part Haunt, part aura. It appears from the costing of these spells that Development was nervous about the potential of these cards. Last Thoughts presents an interesting puzzle. On the surface, it is worse than every other card draw spell in Pauper. Even in an ideal situation (cast pre-combat, encode, connect) it is still worse than a Divination. But what about after that? Unchecked it can provide a stream of cards that can help blue decks keep their hand full. A lot like Ninja of the Deep Hours, the closest comparison. Ninja does work in Delver by helping return Spellstutter Sprite, albeit at a tempo loss. If the format ever becomes one where tempo matters more, I can see Last Thoughts taking the place of a Ninja or two.
Shadow Slice is another expensive cipher spell, but it gives the theoretical mono-black aggro deck another tool. While it does cost five, it can take out six life in one (optimal) turn and then turns your creature into a mini Inferno Titan. When combined with creatures like Dauthi Slayer or the new Shadow Alley Denizen, Shadow Slice could provide an end game. Of course, the format has to slow down enough to allow a five-mana spell to be playable.
Evolve does not have any standouts for Pauper. Cloudfin Raptor is cheap enough to see play, but in its ideal home of Delver Blue, it will be a 3/4 at the absolute largest. This deck already has access in Stitched Drake, and jumping through hoops to do this seems unwise at best. If blue decks wanted to make an early investment for a large creature late, Errant Ephemeron exists.
Shambleshark might see play, but not for evolve. Rather, the ability to potentially turn on Shorecrasher Mimic at instant speed could be thing, as Mimic presents an impressive threat as a 5/3 trampler.
Extort has the most potential to make an immediate impact in Pauper. First, Syndic of Tithes slots nicely as a mana sink in White Weenie. While its stats are not impressive, following this up with a Squadron Hawk (and three buddies) makes for an eventual eight point life swing. Later on, Kor Skyfisher can be repeatedly bounced to net one life drain for each cycle. And this is playing fair.
Currently, one version of Temporal Storm wins by recurring a Mnemonic Wall (or Archaeomancer) and Cloud of Faeries with a Ghostly Flicker (and lands like Dimir Aqueduct) to generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana and spell count and then Temporal Fissures an opposing board away before attacking with various 1/1s and 2/2s. But with infinite mana and infinite spells, extort allows you to win on the spot. This is already a resilient combo deck (that occasionally runs Kor Missionary for life gain), but Syndic (and other extort creatures) are legitimate maindeck inclusions that provide a secondary win condition that actually wins on the spot.
Kingpin's Pet is too expensive to make it in a combo deck, but it could fit nicely at the top end of Nightsky Aggro. The deck, built around Nightsky Mimic and Nip Gwyllion, placed highly in early Pauper Premier Events. With the addition of Guildgates and new Orzhov cards, it could have the tools for a comeback
As far as the cards that do not feature a new mechanic, there are a few standouts. The Guildgates are key, helping to make the mana better for all two-color decks in Pauper. While this does little to aid potential two-color all-out beatdown, it does help with control and midrange strategies.
Scatter Arc provides an interesting tool for Mystical Teachings decks. Many of these decks run Negate either main or side as a way to take care of the spells that removal does not handle. Scatter Arc does this but also charges a two colorless premium for drawing a card. Negate is better when you are siding it in for counter wars or as added insurance against combo. In attrition matchups, being able to afford the extra two for replacing the spell can be a huge tempo swing. If you find yourself in Cloudpost mirrors or want a way to fight Rats, Scatter Arc could be the card for you.
Goblins could be getting a new tool in Foundry Street Denizen. Not only is it on tribe, but Goblins is really good at putting multiple creatures on the board at once. The red Denizen combos with almost every card in the deck. It is possible to add Intimidator Initiate as well to help force through the damage with Denizen. It might not be better than the current incarnation of Goblins, but it does provide another option for the red army.
Madcap Skills is a card to watch. A whole deck is based on the interaction of Ethereal Armor and Aura Gnarlid, so the ability to give creatures +3/+0 and make it harder to block should not be ignored. This is coming from the guy who tried to make Furor of the Bitten happen, so take that as you will.
Mortus Strider is a card that feels potent, but there is no way to make use of its ability to raise itself from the dead. If it had two power, I would feel more inclined to make it work. As is, I will be keeping an eye on this Skeleton for future interactions.
Deathcult Rogue will almost never be blocked. Being blue does not matter, as Noggle Bandit already exists. If a black deck needs to make use of cipher cards, this could be their three-drop after Dauthi Slayer and Dauthi Horror at the two slot.
Finally, Shattering Blow is an interesting option in that it exiles the artifacts, ignoring the death trigger on Disciple of the Vault. If Disciple Affinity becomes a major player, this is a card to pack in your sideboard.
My Pauper pickup list* for Gatecrash is:
* Also known as cards to keep after you draft and do release events.
Keep slingin' commons-
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
The Colors of Pauper:
I am Golgari. Maybe it's because I loved watching people play Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest side by side or someone beat down with a Blastoderm while removing a blocker with a Snuff Out (free, thanks to Bayou). Maybe it's because I love eking out every ounce of value from my cards. I'm Golgari through and through and will always look for a way to play my Swamps next to my Forests (and find the best serving of vegetarian brains out there).