Peering Into Pauper: Commons Compleated

(Editor’s Note: New Phyrexia autocard links will not work until Gatherer is updated. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

A week ago, I was looking forward with anticipation to the start of spoiler season for New Phyrexia. A handful of cards had already been spoiled from some Japanese scans, but they were largely rares and mythics, which didn’t give me anything to speculate on for my favorite format, Pauper. But I checked Twitter on Tuesday, and it was exploding with news about New Phyrexia. Apparently a severe leak happened, exposing the entire set extremely early. Within hours of it happening, the Internet was abuzz with all sorts of discussion on the new set and its impact on every format. However, the bulk of it has focused on New Phyrexia‘s obvious impact on Standard, and whatever impact another absolutely free piece of countermagic will have on Legacy.

All of this discussion and speculation is terrific and has so far been about normal for spoiler season. Also normal is the fact that most overlook the commons of a set during spoiler season, other than ones that are obvious limited powerhouses. No such error is made in this article, however, and I will be discussing every common in the set that I foresee having any sort of impact on Pauper.

I doubt New Phyrexia will cause a great upheaval in the Pauper format, though it almost certainly will have at least some impact. The set offers a number of cards that can fit into existing archetypes as tweaks to existing slots, as well as two specific cards that I foresee being major players in a post-New Phyrexia metagame. Without further ado, I will share what I believe to be the two major players in Pauper decks.

First of all, a card that would be completely ignored and overlooked if it weren’t for a single word in its text box: infect.

On the surface, this card doesn’t seem to offer much. Essentially a green Savannah Lions, Glistener Elf isn’t by itself so much an insane card. What is insane, though, is what it does to help out a deck that was already pushing its way into the fringes of playability: Poison Stompy. Prior to Glistener Elf, not a single creature with infect existed with a CMC of 1. Vector Asp doesn’t count because of its potentially prohibitive activation cost, and Virulent Sliver delivers only one poison counter per connection with the opponent, making it awful with the deck’s prevalence of pump spells. This presented a fairly large problem for a strategy that amounts to little more than slamming through as much damage with creatures as quickly as possible. Filling the hole at 1 on the curve of a Stompy deck is critical to the deck’s strategy, and Glistener Elf does just that. Here’s a sample list:

Hypothetical Pauper Poison Stompy

The list is almost certainly not perfect, especially since I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not generally a Stompy player. (That said, if I were to play Stompy in Pauper, it would almost certainly be an infect-based build.) Stompy is susceptible to both spot removal and sweepers, and relies on dealing a staggering amount of damage before its lack of card advantage becomes a problem. With that strategy in mind, having the opponent start with the equivalent of 10 life instead of 20 is an insane advantage. Also worth noting is that life gain is useless against you, while generally being very good against traditional Stompy. Traditional Stompy certainly is still a decent deck with a very quick clock, but for my money, I would rather have to deal as little damage to my opponent as possible and avoid the life gain problem altogether if I were playing this style of deck. The admittedly still-lacking one-drop slot in the infect variants is more than accounted for by having to deal half the damage in any given game.

One other option from New Phyrexia that I decided to omit from the Poison Stompy list was Viridian Betrayers, a green 3-drop 3/1 that has infect if your opponent is poisoned. The infect list already has its best, most resilient creatures in the 3-drop slot, making Betrayers a somewhat weaker option than either Cystbearer or Rot Wolf. First of all, I don’t like that Betrayers only does relevant damage situationally. Especially with only one creature in the 1-drop slot, if the opponent opens with a hand containing one or two cheap removal spells, Viridian Betrayers can be a dead card on Turn 3 or Turn 4, which a deck with no real card advantage can’t afford under any circumstance. The other major strike against Betrayers is the single point of toughness. Being vulnerable to literally every damage-based removal spell and sweeper is horrible, especially since you can almost certainly expect something of the sort being boarded in against you by almost every deck in the format. The combination of only situational usefulness and low toughness makes the value of an extra point of power over Cystbearer or Rot Wolf marginal.

While I’m on the topic of Stompy, New Phyrexia also gives Stompy decks of either variation an additional tool in Mutagenic Growth. (Click here to see the card and Phyrexian mana rules on the Mothership.) While the pump effect is only a measly +2/+2, being able to cast this spell without any mana is a great way to spring a surprise kill or dodge damage-based removal. Some lists were already running Gather Courage for exactly those reasons, and Mutagenic Growth seems like an almost strict upgrade in most matchups.

But enough about Stompy. The deck is always a decent contender and has one of the fastest goldfishes in Pauper, but there are decks that goldfish even faster. Coincidentally, one of these faster decks also stands to benefit greatly from New Phyrexia. I am speaking, of course, of The Pauper Perfect Storm (TPPS). The quintessential storm deck in pauper, it strives to simply goldfish an opponent as quickly as possible by chaining together ritual effects and draw spells to storm up a giant Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens. The freshly spoiled Gitaxian Probe serves those goals admirably.

On the surface, the card is fairly innocuous. It’s a reimagining of Peek, which never saw any major play. Spending mana to look at an opponent’s hand is underwhelming. But Peek, as a card that costs no mana and a measly two life, is something to take notice of. Street Wraith briefly saw play in combo decks in some formats because it functionally let you play a 56-card deck, increasing consistency in theory. Street Wraith hasn’t really made much of a splash overall, though, being dismissed in most decks because of mulligan issues and the fact that the difference between 56 and 60 cards wasn’t worth the mulligan issues in testing. While not being an actual mulligan itself, a free cycling effect does represent an unknown quantity in an opening hand, and can lead to keeping hands based on imperfect information, which has the potential to yield disastrous results.

However, Gitaxian Probe has one key advantage over Street Wraith: it builds storm count. Also, when the card is free, being able to see the opponent’s hand can’t be overlooked, since it lets you know when the coast is clear or what to play around, especially against blue-based control decks. Also, Street Wraith isn’t legal in Pauper, where decks aren’t as powerful as in Legacy or Classic. TPPS compared to similar decks in other, higher-powered eternal formats relies much more on smaller cantrip effects to cycle through the deck while building storm much more than individually powerful bomb cards like Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Ad Nauseam. Gitaxian Probe perfectly fits into the strategy of TPPS. It builds storm, cantrips a card deeper into the deck, and provides critical information on the safety of your combo.

For all of its benefits, though, Gitaxian Probe isn’t perfect and does suffer many of the same weaknesses that prevented Street Wraith from taking off. Drawing multiples in an opening hand can be a very awkward situation, since they represent unknown cards. They can cantrip you into more gas, or can be blank and essentially cause you to mulligan to five without realizing it. In addition, the life loss isn’t negligible when playing against other very fast decks like Goblins or (non-poison) Stompy, especially when multiples are drawn.

Despite the downsides, Gitaxian Probe is almost certainly worth the risks in TPPS and will probably see widespread play in the deck, allowing it to increase its goldfish speed a little. The biggest question about Gitaxian Probe is what cards to remove from existing TPPS lists to make room for it. My solution right now is to remove a few of the weaker cantrips like Chromatic Sphere and Sign in Blood. My current testing list, based on a recent 3-1 list from the Dailies, is as follows:

One final note on Gitaxian Probe; please, please, please do not try to play this card in the other Pauper storm deck. The Esper Storm decks do not need a card like Gitaxian Probe to help build storm and provide a cantrip. That other deck focuses far too much on actual card advantage to want an effect like Gitaxian Probe, and the mulligan issues it causes will be very detrimental to a deck that can usually dig its way out of mediocre hands. Finally, Esper Storm is a slower combo deck that often takes a decent amount of damage from fast aggressive decks before actually going off, and flashing back Deep Analysis is a much more important use of life than a cantrip effect to build storm. If all else fails, just remember, Gitaxian Probe in fast combo — yes. In slower combo — no.

The last archetype that could see significant change or improvement as a result of New Phyrexia is Affinity. Of course Affinity gets new toys — it’s a block set in the plane of Mirrodin. I’d be quite disappointed if Affinity didn’t get at least a few shiny new robot toys. It isn’t the traditional Affinity lists that are getting the boost from New Phyrexia, though. Instead, I want to discuss an alternate build of the deck that was pointed out to me some weeks ago on Twitter. There was an Affinity list with 12 lands and a greater focus on pure racing than other lists that regularly 4-0 Daily Events. At the time, I dismissed it as a fluke, which has proven to be the best idea — until New Phyrexia. New Phyrexia and its Phyrexian mana looks like it could change that. There are several common colored artifact creatures that can be paid for with Phyrexian mana, and a few of them may be perfect additions to a hyper-aggressive, Stompy-style Affinity deck. Here are a couple:

Of these cards, Vault Skirge seems like it would be the most likely to see play in such a deck simply because of its lower casting cost. The others, though, may also be excellent in such a deck. The number of slots to fill in Affinity decks is limited, though, because playing 12 or more would both constrict deck space too much and probably cause a little bit more life loss than such a deck would be comfortable with. A rough, sample decklist:

The list is admittedly rough, and could almost certainly use improvement. The one thing I’m concerned about regarding the new cards is that the two-cost ones may just be worse than Auriok Sunchaser or Somber Hoverguard. Each option has its benefits, and testing may show that additional artifact creatures aren’t needed past those with proper Affinity for Artifacts or perhaps Vault Skirge. The interaction with Welding Jar, though, may be enough to tip the scales in favor of the slightly weaker Phyrexian machines.

Next up is a pair of cards for one of the most beloved and oldest decks in the format, Mono-Black Control (MBC). MBC lists in Pauper are all pretty similar and rely on lots of enters-the-battlefield creature effects to generate card and tempo advantage. In the great theme of clogging the 3-cost slot in the deck, New Phyrexia brings us the common Blind Zealot, a BB1 2/2 Human Cleric with intimidate and an ability that grants its controller the option of sacrificing it to destroy a target creature that a player who has taken combat damage from Blind Zealot controls. He may not make a huge splash in the archetype, however, since the deck already has a plethora of spot removal available that’s less situational, but it’s always nice to have options when tuning a list.

Geths Verdict, on the other hand, is almost certain to make almost every MBC list in Pauper. Diabolic Edict sees a fair amount of play between maindecks and sideboards as a way to kill things, since it can get around pesky shroud creatures and is one of the only removal spells in the format playable in MBC that can kill other black creatures. Geths Verdict, a BB instant that forces a target player to sacrifice a creature and lose 1 life, is a strict upgrade in a deck that only produces black mana. It isn’t a huge upgrade since one life isn’t a huge bonus, but adding an upside to an already-played card is nothing to sneeze at.

The other control deck that gains a few more options from New Phyrexia is Mono-Blue Control (MUC). First off, the less likely of the two cards to see play, Impaler Shrike, a UU2 3/1 Bird with flying and an ability parallel to Blind Zealot‘s (instead of sacrificing it after it deals damage to an opponent in combat to destroy a target creature, you may sacrifice it after dealing combat damage to a player in order to draw three cards): Initially, I was very excited for this card in Pauper since it’s by far the cheapest way to draw three cards in the format that doesn’t have a major drawback (i.e., like Ideas Unbound). The more I thought about it, though, the less and less excited about Impaler Shrike I am. Sure, drawing three cards is pretty nutty, but this is, at its absolute best, a Concentrate that tacks on a Lightning Bolt in exchange for Suspend 1. When phrased that way, it seems fine, but things are rarely that easy. Pauper decks of all sorts are chock full of creature removal, and Impaler Shrike will be a magnet for it. Additionally, blockers exist too, and I’d rather not be trading away my draw engine for 1/x fliers. Finally, Pauper MUC decks are generally able to operate almost entirely at instant speed, and Impaler Shrike is a 4-CC removal magnet that might draw you some cards. It’s certainly possible that it could see play, but I’m not holding my breath.

Spire Monitor, on the other hand, a U4 3/3 Drake with flash and flying, I’m actually fairly excited for in MUC. Many lists are already playing Sentinels of Glen Elendra as an instant speed blocker/threat/combat trick. Spire Monitor is the same card, with +1/+0 for one more mana. Since MUC is usually content sitting around playing ‘draw-go’ against most decks, hitting five lands is a typical goal, and at that point the extra power is a huge boost. Shaving three turns off of a clock is nothing to sneeze at, and neither is killing slightly bigger creatures. As with other cards from the set, it’s not a huge upgrade, and some may not even play it, but it’s definitely a viable alternative to already-played cards.

The last deck-specific card I foresee being played at all in Pauper is Maul Splicer, a G6 1/1 Human Artificer that spits out two 3/3 colorless Golems when it enters the battlefield and grants them trample as a static ability. Greenpost has been putting up decent results here and there recently, in part thanks to the recent addition of Fangren Marauder as an additional large man. Maul Splicer is really nothing besides random fat, but it does help avoid the primary problem plaguing Greenpost: Spot removal. Landing a large creature means little if it just gets Doom Bladed, and Maul Splicer helps avoid that problem by actually creating three separate creatures. It certainly won’t revolutionize the archetype, but it might make its way into a few lists.

Last up are a pair of quick hits in Glissas Scorn and Vapor Snag. The former is a G1 instant that destroys a target artifact and makes its controller lose 1 life. The latter is an instant costing U that Unsummons a creature and makes its controller lose 1 life. Both are part of the cycle with Geths Verdict, all being old staple cards with a life loss for the target(‘s controller) tacked on. Unsummon wasn’t really seeing play, and adding a point of life loss won’t change that fact, but it’s good to know a marginally better option exists, although with Vapor Snag, bouncing your own creature would punish you with life loss. Naturalize sees a bit of play, and trading the ability to hit enchantments, which rarely show up in Pauper, will be worth the point of damage to some decks like Stompy or even Greenpost. Neither is exciting, but both have the potential to be minor role players here and there.

Well, there you have it: my thoughts on New Phyrexia in Pauper. I’ll leave with a few thoughts on the subject of being able to write this article something like a month before I would normally be able to. It’s certainly exciting to see a new set this early, but it also has definite downsides as well. Spoiler season is officially over until summer speculation on M12 begins. Speculation and rumors about new sets have always been fun and exciting, and now we lose out on all that excitement. The spoiling also makes preview articles obsolete, which sucks for a lot of writers, and I feel for them. Finally, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the person who leaked these cards — that’s for sure. I’m writing this a day after the full spoiler went up, and already one (deserving) arrest as been made. Wizards certainly offers swift retribution, and we’re probably unlikely to have anything like this happen again soon as a result

For all the downsides and loss of speculation fun, though, I’m actually kind of stoked the spoilers hit this early, overall. I’m a brewer and player before anything else in this game, and having access to new cards this early gives lots of time to prepare for the new metagame in every format, and I personally think we can’t get new cards fast enough! I’ve already started testing some of the above cards and lists, and hopefully you’ll all enjoy doing so as well.

Until next time, have fun brewing with the new cards and slinging spells in the greatest (and cheapest) format!

- Grant Champion
– Pitlord on MTGO and most forums
– @Grant_champion on twitter

  1. Pitlord’s (above) Poison Stompy deck should read as running 20 Forests, but our software is bugging out for some reason. Sorry about that.

  2. “Pitlord’s (above) Poison Stompy deck should read as running 20 Forests, but our software is bugging out for some reason.” – Fixed.

  3. I’m not really familiar with the pauper metagame, but do you really think Mutagenic Growth won’t be used in many different kinds of decks? I think that is the common spell which makes people most excited.

  4. I think the golem cycle cards are quite interesting, I can see a casual deck in there somewhere.

    And mutagenic growth is a great card, anything that is free is going to see play in a lot of decks across all formats. Especially mental misstep, which is going to be a 4-of in many many decks

  5. mental misstep is an uncommon so cant play in this format, but yes it’ll see play in eternal formats, probably not so much in T2.


  6. I can promise you that immolating soul stealer will see some play in burn or goblin decks trying to get tricky, heck any deck might play it as it will always be a threat to just end a game if you’re far enough ahead.

  7. Just some advice on better choices for that Infect deck:

    Lotus Petal – absolute must in securing turn 2/3 kills.

    Crop Rotation toolbox – throw in the lands that make you fly, or give you prot from a colour, and fetching them with Crop Rotation makes your 12 poison creature unblockable.

    Mutagenic Growth – while trample is a must, and +2/+2 isn’t THAT much, the fact that this is free will mean it’ll probably be a 2-of in the deck.

  8. Mutagenic Growth is a good card, and will probably see play in both stompy variants. It’s certainly correct in regular versions, though I’m more skeptical in infect builds since an extra 4 makes it half of their life total, while an extra 2 isn’t nearly as much.
    I’m not convinced on Souleater since he’s fragile and goes into a deck that usually mostly blanks opposing removal, making him a magnet for it.
    Lotus petal should probably be in the stompy build, but crop rotation seems too cute, and I don’t really want non-green producing lands in a deck with so few to begin with.