Peering Into Pauper: Innistrad In-Depth

Four times a year, the Magic community buzzes with excitement for the newest set. New cards mean new decks, strategies, and tweaks to existing decks. Now that Innistrad is fully released in the realm of paper cards and that the online pre-release is right around the corner, it’s time for the online-only formats to get some of that gothic horror lovin’. We’ve all seen the extreme impact Innistrad has had on Standard, Legacy, and even Vintage in a short two weekends. Now that the set is finally being released online, it’s time to examine how it will impact the best format of them all: Pauper.

I’m sure by now everyone has been set-reviewed to death, already has their pick orders fairly determined in Limited, and knows what bombs Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil are in Constructed formats. What people haven’t really been discussing, though, are the commons in the set and how they compare to every other common in the game. Card evaluations change dramatically in a world without higher rarities, which is where I come in. I will be guiding you through Innistrad as the “common mage,” as it were. I won’t be doing so in the traditional set review way, though. I’m sure you’ve read hundreds of reviews filled with ratings on scales from 1-x and bad puns for the unplayable Limited filler by now, so I’m going to steer away from that method and focus on actual decks. What decks can benefit from new printings, and are there any new decks that these printings can spawn? These are the questions I’ll be answering today, so let’s begin by examining a deck that could potentially gain quite a bit from the latest set: White Weenie.

White Weenie (WW) is a strategy as old as time. Make small white creatures, remove critical opposing creatures, and turn your dorks sideways, maybe while pumping them with some sort of global pump effect. Innistrad has a sweet human sub-theme that brings along a handful of cards that could be useful in White Weenie. Let’s check them out:

Bonds of FaithPacifism isn’t the most unreasonable card to play in Pauper WW, but it isn’t the greatest removal either, generally being just much worse than Journey to Nowhere. With a potential maindeck application against combo, though, Bonds of Faith might be a reasonable inclusion if you run at least twelve or so humans and expect a decent amount of combo.

Doomed Traveler — The one-drop slot is significantly worse in Pauper than in other formats for WW. There are some acceptable beaters that suspend for a single white and Ication Javalineers, that’s about it. Doomed Traveler may not be much more than a 1/1 for W, but his ability to come back could be useful if a build emerges that looks simply to flood the board as quickly as possible and swing recklessly. Guardians Pledge makes such a deck not entirely unreasonable, but it might just be worse than something like Goblins. The idea is still worth testing, though.

Selfless Cathar — Another enabler for the hypothetical million 1-drop WW build, the global pump effect that can swing on its own is likely fine in most WW builds. I’m a fan of him as a way to push through extra damage late while not being an absolutely atrocious draw late. He’s likely worth testing in any WW build and certainly deserves a slot in a hyper-aggressive, low-curve build.

Unruly Mob — Another potential candidate for this hypothetical hyper-aggressive list that can get out of hand fairly quickly if dropped in the middle of any sort of stalled board. Probably won’t make the final cut in most decks, but he could be a superstar in a metagame where mirror matches abound.

White Weenie has clearly gained quite a few additional options, but it’s unclear right now if any of them are really significantly better than options already available. Contrast this scenario with that of Mono-Black Control (MBC). MBC gains only two potential spells from Innistrad, but they’re both of exceptional quality. They are:

Dead WeightDisfigure is already a staple of current MBC decks, and this card is very close in functionality, being sometimes better and sometimes worse. Both can kill the same creatures on the spot, with the only difference being the instant speed of Disfigure versus the permanent effect of Dead Weight. In the early game when mana is much tighter, the ability to cast Disfigure EOT is superb, but Dead Weight is generally a much better topdeck late since it can help slow down or neutralize threats like Spire Golem more effectively. I will immediately be testing a split of the two and seeing which is more useful in more situations, and adjusting accordingly.

Victim of Night — Another set, another 2-cost removal spell to consider for MBC. Grasp of Darkness was recently printed and became basically the removal of choice for MBC in Pauper since it handles most every card in the format since it can target black creatures, too, something that’s limited most other removal spells before it. Now Innistrad brings along another premium removal spell with minimal limitation. There are very few creatures it can’t kill that see frequent play in Pauper. For the time being, at least, I foresee this being the choice of removal for any deck that can reliably use a double black removal spell, most notably MBC.

As usual, Mono-Black Control sees another printing that brings along a handful of playable removal spells. Another deck that almost never fails to see cards worth consideration is the aggressive red deck. Whether you want to call it Sligh, Red Deck Wins, or most commonly in Pauper, simply Burn, red rarely stops getting new efficient sources of damage, and Innistrad is no exception.

Brimstone VolleyIncinerate is the bottom edge for a playable burn spell in Pauper, and Lava Axe is stone-cold unplayable. Lava Axe for 2 less mana, though, seems like a pretty good card, and it doesn’t take much for Brimstone Volley to become exactly that. Almost every burn deck is already playing one of the best enablers for Volley in Keldon Marauders. Using just those two cards on Turns 2 and 3 knocks out a full half of your opponent’s life total. On Turn 3, with two cards (five counting lands). That’s INSANE. The best part is that Keldon Marauders is just the tip of the iceberg. Mogg Fanatic is obviously much less powerful without stacked damage, but still a reasonable inclusion that shows up sometimes even with Brimstone Volley. With it, though, Mogg Fanatic becomes awesome, and having one in play can suddenly represent an effortless 6 damage. Finally, let’s not forget that morbid triggers when anything dies, meaning that the sinking feeling of “wasting” a burn spell on an opposing dork now comes with the benefit of enabling a Lava Axe. Pretty sick, right?

Bump in the Night — Alright, so here’s an interesting one. As it stands currently, the only burn deck in Pauper is mono-red, as it typically is in most formats. In Pauper especially, splashes are less supportable because of the dearth of good dual lands. Bump in the Night might actually manage to change that for burn decks. Lava Spike is an auto-include in every Pauper Burn list, and having another one is a welcome addition on its own, and one with flashback is simply just insane. Couple that with the fact that a black splash in burn also enables the similarly absurd Blightning, and suddenly adding a color to Burn doesn’t seem so ridiculous. The issue is whether the power of a flashback Lava Spike and a card advantage Lightning Bolt is worth sacrificing either consistency or speed in a mana base. With no extremely color-intensive spells in either color, I believe that it may well be. Enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands are certainly a liability in a deck trying to kill an opponent as fast as possible. That said, though, playing just a handful of Terramorphic Expanses and something like four Swamps would still allow consistent untapped lands the first few turns while adding a great deal of raw power to the archetype.

Bloodcrazed Neonate –I’ve now raved about two cards that could be added to Burn, so here’s a less glowing review of a red card for a change. Neonate is certainly worth mentioning since she can quickly become a significant threat against some decks, but I’m not crazy about her. In Pauper even the control decks tend to play a fair amount of creatures that will either trade with or stop a small-ish Bloodcrazed Neonate cold. The drawbacks are severe in that her starting toughness leaves her open to basically every removal spell available and that she has to attack. On the draw, even when played on Turn 2, a turn three swing will often be a suicide attack, putting you either down a creature, or down a burn spell to clear the way. She might warrant testing, but I’m not holding my breath for her to make a big splash in Pauper.

Enough about the aggressive decks in Pauper right now. Let’s talk about a few fan-favorites, especially UB Teachings. Teachings is a popular deck that fairs alright in the current metagame, though it often plays second fiddle to the Izzetpost deck in terms of being the top control deck. That said, though, both can stand to gain from at least one card in Innistrad.

Forbidden Alchemy — This card has already proven to be a powerhouse in Standard, being one half of the essential components in the newest Solar Flare decks. That specific deck doesn’t have the tools to exist in Pauper, but Forbidden Alchemy should be a terrific addition to both Teachings and Izzetpost decks. The most obvious comparison for the card is either Impulse or Strategic Planning. Both offer similar effects for less mana, and Impulse is even also an instant. So why is Forbidden Alchemy worth looking at when its two closest comparisons aren’t even considerations? Quite simply, the that it both enables flashback cards and that it has flashback itself make the card excellent. Mystical Teachings and Firebolt are both very good cards that love being dumped in the bin, and having flashback itself means Alchemy is good at both setting up early, and ensures you don’t run out of gas late. Especially in the types of heavily controlling lists like Teachings or Izzetpost, if the game doesn’t get to the point where you can flashback Forbidden Alchemy, you’re losing anyway. Digging four deep early is also excellent at helping find the singleton bullets that make these decks successful. I expect to see Forbidden Alchemy show up in many control lists as at least a one-of, and that number could start increasing if more good flashback cards are printed or people begin playing Think Twice more often.

The final existing deck to benefit from the spoils of Innistrad is Reanimator. I’ve mentioned Reanimator before, claiming that it doesn’t have the tools to compete in Pauper, and that’s sadly still true after the printing of the first graveyard-centric block in quite some time. All there is for now is one good new enabler that fills your yard in Armored Skaab. If you’re a fan of Renaimator, though, and/or a returning reader, you know that the issue with Pauper Renimator isn’t at all a lack of cards to help fill the yard. The animation spells at common still number exactly one, something I was sincerely hoping Innistrad would remedy. For now Reanimator sits hopefully on the backburner, waiting for Dark Ascension.

The rest of the existing decks in Pauper really gain nothing of note. Affinity gets a lousy artifact removal spell now that Blazing Torch is common, Lost in the Mist might make the occasional blue deck as a late game singleton, and Momentary Blink decks might sideboard Feeling of Dread once in a while, but no other decks strongly benefit. There isn’t a single goblin in the set, and while Infernal Plunge is technically a ritual, it’s just much, much worse than everything the storm decks already have. Still, though, Innistrad brings plenty of new role-fillers to the table for many tier 1 and 2 decks, as well as enables a potential new deck that I want to discuss. That deck is Mono-blue Aggro.

Mono-Blue Aggro is a deck that has rarely existed in any format, and often in fact seems like a staunch contradiction of terms. Typically, the most aggressive blue decks splash other colors for removal spells or more efficient creatures than the ones blue alone can offer. Innistrad potentially looks to be able to change that, at least within the context of Pauper, thanks to the following two cards.

Delver of Secrets — A fair amount of discussion has surrounded this card. The people advocating for him mention how fast a clock he can create very quickly for a blue deck, which is very rare, and his ability to dominate early combat scenarios. Detractors bring up the difficulty in transforming him and his meager 2 toughness. In Pauper, things are different. Anything with less than 3 toughness is nearly identical in terms of being susceptible to damage-based removal, and we have access to one of the best ways to ensure he transforms in the game, Brainstorm. Brainstorm is even good on its own, making it a non-issue to play. Pauper mages also have Ninja of the Deep Hours, meaning that even if he doesn’t flip on Turn 2, there is still the chance to utilize him as a generic 1-drop to get a draw engine online. If the blue aggressive deck does find room in Pauper, it will be in large part thanks to this card.

Stitched Drake — This thing is a monster in Pauper. When most creatures are bears or the equivalent, this guy rules the skies. The additional cost is almost a non-issue in a format with so much removal as long you’re running at least a handful of other creatures, which we’re obviously looking to do with this deck. Combined with the Delver, an aggro-control with seven to eight 3-power dorks can present quite a clock for an opponent. Why don’t we look at a starting point for a list?

Pauper Mono-Blue Aggro by Grant Champion

The list is obviously very rough, and hasn’t yet been tested, but I think it has some potential. Some basic explanations:

Zephyr Sprite is a necessary evil since I really want at least eight 1-drops to enable Ninjas, he’s probably my least favorite card in the deck, but right now there aren’t any better options and the Sprite does what it needs to do.

Pestermite is a slot that I think is best as Pestermite because of the tempo it generates, though I’d also be interested in testing with Spellstutter Sprite in the slot for more disruption or Spire Golem for a little more beef.

Boomerang is probably the oddest card in the list, and one I’m not too fond of in general. In this deck it basically takes the place of traditional removal since you’re really only concerned with stunting the opponent’s tempo. Also, a Boomerang can be back-breaking with a Ninja in play or simply with 6 power of fliers swinging in at a time. If Boomerang ends up being bad, which is admittedly quite possible, Piracy Charm or the slightly more expensive Man-o-War will likely be the cards to play instead.
Eight each of counter and cantrip effects are what allow the deck to keep from falling behind. Rune Snag is the most suspect choice of the sixteen, and could easily become some mixture of Mana Leaks and Prohibits depending on how long games actually end up going.

The deck seems to have a lot going for it, but also has some weaknesses that stand out right away. The biggest strength of the deck, at least in theory, is that if it manages to get even a tiny bit ahead of most opponents, it will quickly build an almost insurmountable advantage in terms of both tempo and cards. That said, though, the deck lacks any real good way of digging itself out of a hole. If your opponent leads off with threats on Turns 1, 2, and 3, you’re going to have an exceptionally difficult time handling them with slightly slower creatures and no removal. I expect the list to be solid against other controlling and aggro-control decks, though on paper the match against Goblins or Burn seems almost unwinnable. Let me know what you think about the deck in the comments section, what choices you would make, if I missed anything obvious, if you’re excited to try it out, or even if you think it’s complete rubbish!

That’s all I have for now about Innistrad. The set seems to add some decent role-players to Pauper, and its impact will almost certainly be felt in some way. It might not be bringing the flashiest spells or best creatures ever to Pauper like it has to Standard and even Legacy, but don’t be surprised to see at least a few spells from Innistrad popping up in DEs soon.

-Grant Champion

As always, if you enjoy my ramblings, you can also talk to me online and follow me on Twitter!

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  1. So, I just had an evil thought of adding Forbidden Alchemy to IzzetPost and adding a complement of reanimator spells. Not sure what to pull for them, but effectively doubling the effeciency of Crusher sounds like awesome sauce to me.

  2. On one hand I kind of like the idea since Alchemy is a decent enough draw engine on its own, and having multiple lines of attack is awesome. It would probably take a complete re-tooling though since you’d probably also want Deep Analysis and probably a touch less removal since you’d be bringing back one of their men with exhume as well. Certainly worth testing though, at the very least it would probably be fun.

  3. To be honest I totally forgot about bear while constructing the list. It was quickly pointed out to me on Twitter that I did so, and some suggestions for entirely different lists were tossed around a little. I can post some of the ideas if you like.