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Thoroughly Modern Masters

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Scion of the Wild
I’m not sure whether Adam Prosak loves Pauper or hates the format. If you recall Prosak was the one who put Peregrine Drake in the file for Eternal Masters which resulted in one of the single more dominant Pauper decks in recent memory. While he did pull a mea culpa, I’m onto you Prosak, especially after taking a look at Modern Masters 2017.

I’m kidding, of course.

Sorta.

You see Modern Masters 2017, and other similar Masters releases are designed to release powerful cards into the wild. In order to create an enjoyable draft environment the strength of everything else has to rise to accommodate the new apex. The result is a draft format that resembles Cube in many ways and this is normally a boon to Pauper.

Pauper is unique amongst recognized formats in that it is not a set that determines legality but rather rarity. As we’ve seen with Scion of the Wild and now Mortician Beetle that rarity in the past is not a true indicator of what makes something a Common. Rarity is an artificial construct in many ways in that it primarily serves balancing Limited. There are market considerations as well — Planeswalkers could feel less “special” if they showed up with the frequency of Shock — but when you start to deconstruct things rarity is a structure that exists because it exists.

To be clear I’m not saying there is no reason for rarity to exist. I strongly believe that without a good rarity system Magic would not be the successful game we know and love. It might exist in some alternate form but who knows what that would be.

But you didn’t come here for a philosophical diatribe on the nature of scarcity. You want to know how the new set is going to impact Pauper. While I was a bit hyperbolic in my fear that Adam Prosak wants to kill the format I am fairly confident in saying that come March 23rd Pauper is going to look very different thanks to Burning-Tree Emissary and Thunderous Wrath.

Pauper is experiencing a relatively stable (and vibrant) metagame at the moment. While Delver, Affinity, and Stompy all continue their success none of them are dominating week in and week out. Murasa Tron — a three-to-four color control deck running the UrzaTron — has been steadily climbing the undefeated rankings while last season’s breakout stars of Dimir Flicker and Kuldotha Tokens continue to put up respectable results. These new cards turn the format on its proverbial ear.

The three newest regular fixtures on the standings all have something in common — they take time to set up. Kuldotha Tokens is the fastest of these decks thanks to Battle Screech into Rally the Peasants and it still takes until turn six to reliably win (at the earliest). Murasa Tron wants to play a slow game in the early turns before establishing a dominating presence with an overabundance of mana. Dimir Flicker needs at least 4 mana and five turns before it can attempt to establish its “lock” with Chittering Rats, Archaeomancer, and Ghostly Flicker (SPOILER ALERT: time is the least of that deck’s problems moving forward).

Burning-Tree Emissary

Burning-Tree Emissary can exert a unique pressure in the early stages of the game. In a format when effectively spending mana is a way to get ahead the Emissary shines. It is not hard to see how current mono-Green Stompy decks can take advantage of this new addition to the format. Nest Invader sees play already for multiple reasons. The Spawn token can create mana, eat an Edict, or turn on Hunger of the Howlpack. In a pinch it can get Rancor’d up or carry a Bonesplitter. Most importantly the Invader makes two bodies as early as turn two. Burning-Tree Emissary does not bring a buddy to the party but keeps the door open for acquaintances to pour in. The 2 mana means it can easily cast a Nest Invader or commit any one of Stompy’s copious 1-drops to the board while also bringing a Vault Skirge or Bonesplitter to the party. It would not surprise me to see Stompy adopt some number of Flayer Husk in the wake of Modern Masters 2017 to help facilitate strong openings with the Emissary. Relegated to the Kaladesh Planeswalker Decks, Terrain Elemental is a bad Garruk’s Companion but it has the all important generic mana in the cost so it can be cast after the Emissary.


Burning-Tree Emissary draws are going to be a new litmus test for the format. If a deck is unable to establish a strong defensive position early while also being on the draw it could easily be run over by draw that includes multiple 2 power creatures chained together on turn two. Cards like Typhoid Rats, Pharika's Chosen, and Sedge Scorpion have increased in value as has Oona's Gatewarden. Creatures with 3 toughness (including Augur of Bolas and Gnawing Zombie) are attractive. The best of the bunch may just be Cuombajj Witches for its ability to block and pick off smaller threats.

This is only one application for Burning-Tree Emissary. Red based aggro could make use of the same burst of mana. Pump spells are good but Red has access to a similar effect in burn spells which also have the advantage of going to the face if the need arises. Burning-Tree Emissary may not have as strong 1-drop friends in Red but it does gain access to Keldon Marauders, Heartlash Cinder, Valley Dasher, and the Dash on Mardu Scout. A chain involving these creatures and a turn one Foundry Street Denizen could make for a significant early onslaught that, when backed up with Lightning Bolt, Fireblast, and Thunderous Wrath, could end games in a flash.


The surface is only scratched on Burning-Tree Emissary. I have no doubt it will spur some players to try two-color aggressive decks and they may experience sustained success. The other card in the equation above — Thunderous Wrath — will no doubt have trophies tied to its name.

Thunderous Wrath

I have long rallied for Pauper to be unified under the Magic Online legality. While some of the more powerful arguments for this include Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach, and High Tide, Goblin Grenade is also a consideration. Five damage is a lot in games that are as tight as Pauper’s and even with the vulnerability to Spellstutter Sprite I worried about the pressure the Grenade could exert. Thunderous Wrath takes those fears and makes Sprite worthless. Games involving Mountains will now have an increased sense of randomness with one deck quite literally living off the top. Thunderous Wrath is not an automatic four of — having one in the opener is a guaranteed mulligan — but it will compress games.


It is not impossible to imagine a turn three kill with Burn now. A turn one Rift Bolt or Lava Spike followed by a Thermo-Alchemist on the second turn means that if Burn hits their third land drop they can pass the turn. Starting in the next end step a Thermo-Alchemist ping can turn on Needle Drop which can then Miracle a Wrath followed by two Lightning Bolts or a Bolt and Fireblast. Any of these combinations can deal the final points thanks to Alchemist. I know this is a very unlikely scenario but it will happen and boy howdy will it stink to be on the receiving end of that sequence.

That is to say nothing of pairing Thunderous Wrath with Brainstorm and other Blue filtering spells like Ponder and Preordain. Maybe even Telling Time.


A Delver of Secrets that reveals a Thunderous Wrath with an open Red source is going to make a lot of people slump in their chairs. Blue and Red were already two of the stronger colors in Pauper and I do not see that changing anytime soon. The addition of Augur of Bolas only serves to help fuel an Izzet deck that leans on spells to supplement Insectile Aberration beats. There are some harsh realities regarding the mana but the ability to press the advantage in this combination may prove too potent to ignore.

So what does Thunderous Wrath do to the rest of the format? First it makes Dispel and Spell Pierce stronger. The ability to stop a five point spell in the draw step is going to be of vital import in the coming months. Hydroblast was already a sideboard all-star and its value continues to rise. Reliable life gain in appreciable chunks like Lone Missionary and Pulse of Murasa will do some serious work it helping to counteract the first Wrath. Prismatic Strands may be too slow and Hallow too Narrow to be of any real utility. Thunderous Wrath may also mean the death knell for Chittering Rats. The liability of giving an opponent what amounts to a free Miracle trigger may just be too much for Black decks to handle. Liliana's Specter seems like a fine replacement that has less downside with regards to Thunderous Wrath and as we will discuss later, Dimir Flicker may have a better option for its combo in Dinrova Horror.

In tandem these cards represent a shift left on the x-axis of format speed. It is not that there will not be games that persist past turn five. Rather containing a wide spread of threats in the early stages will be important to preserving a sense of parity. Similarly keeping a life total buoyant will be vital to protecting yourself from Wraths off the top.

But Pauper will not rise and fall based upon these two cards alone. There are 20 other new commons thanks to Modern Masters 2017 and here they are in color pie order.

Graceful Reprieve

Graceful Reprieve follows in the footsteps of Undying Evil and Otherworldly Outburst as ways to mitigate a creature dying. Undying Evil has been paired with Mulldrifter for ages and Reprieve will surely follow in those footsteps. Costing 2 mana is a real liability but unlike Undying Evil and Reprieve can be used on any creature regardless of +1/+1 counters. White already has access to Angelic Renewal and pairing these with the existing Cloudshift and Momentary Blink could mean quite a few Mulldrifter triggers. Alternatively these could be pair with Black and cards like Sultai Emissary, Safehold Elite, and Bloodthrone Vampire to chain together enough sacrifice triggers to make a seriously scary attacker.


Pitfall Trap

Celestial Flare sees play due to its ability to take out a singular attacker like Nivix Cyclops or a suited up Slippery Bogle. Pitfall Trap targets and as such does nothing against Hexproof while also being dead against a Cyclops that comes with Apostle's Blessing. However Pitfall Trap has utility outside these specific matchups and when combined with another removal spell can often be used to take down an attacker on the cheap. Paired with Lightning Bolt or Disfigure the Pitfall Trap can remove any non-flying threat if its compatriots in battle happen to be taken out. Pitfall Trap also helps to stall Stompy’s “go tall” early draws where they load up on pump spells while also being strong against the flyer heavy Delver. One of the best openings for Delver is a turn one creature that turns into a Ninja of the Deep Hours on turn two and Pitfall Trap can put a significant damper on that plan. Pitfall Trap is not going to upset the balance of the format but it provides White with a potentially cheap removal spell that can help buy much needed time.

Augur of Bolas

Augur of Bolas is a heck of a Magic card. It’s value is already going to be high since it is a 2-mana 1/3 creature that can block and soak up some damage from the potential Burning-Tree Emissary draws. Augur will require a significant density of spells in order to consistently hit and the Sorcery it will be looking for most often will likely be Evincar's Justice. Justice appears to be a new linchpin in the format for its ability to come down on turn four and hopefully clear the board. The board wipe comes with a significant price in that it forces you into heavy Black while also extracting some health but it is likely to be necessary in the format moving forward. Augur will not only find the overpriced Pyroclasm but survives to block the next threat.

The question becomes whether or not Augur of Bolas is better in these decks than Sea Gate Oracle and Omenspeaker. Odd as it may seem, Omenspeaker may see its stock climb due to its ability to set up a Thunderous Wrath but it likely is not good enough to make the cut in a dedicated control deck. So that leaves Augur of Bolas up against Sea Gate Oracle. While Oracle has the advantage of finding anything in the top two it still costs 3 mana. The need to have early blockers may tip the scales in Augur’s favor but key will be the composition of the rest of the deck.

This conflict also highlights what may happen to mana bases in the post-Modern Masters 2017 world. For quite some time now Pauper has relied on the Khans of Tarkir Gain Lands to help set up midgame plays. These cards are fine on the first turn but now with turn two looking pivotal in the way games will develop the opportunity cost if potentially having a tapped land on the second turn is high. As a consequence Augur of Bolas may be better than anticipated due to its ability to bottom unwanted lands later on in games.

Grasp of Phantoms

It is nice to come to a card that is new to the format and yet there is not much to say about it. Grasp of Phantoms is an expensive Time Ebb with Flashback. While this card can potentially buy time against a Thunderous Wrath it is likely to make no impact in Pauper.

Tandem Lookout

Ninja of the Deep Hours is a near-constant in Pauper. Re-buying a creature with an enters the battlefield trigger and drawing a card is a solid one-two punch. Tandem Lookout provides the ability for any creature to learn how to be a Thieving Magpie. The cost is high at 3 mana and the fragility of the Lookout means that it is far from a sure thing but even connecting once could be enough to send a player miles ahead. Setting up a turn where you have a Tandem Lookout and a flyer on the board will not be hard. Turning that flyer into a Ninja of the Deep Hours and then pairing it with Lookout means that the Ninja will have two instances of damage based card draw.


Tandem Lookout is different from Ninja of the Deep Hours in that it can draw cards on any damage — not just combat. Pairing it with Thornwind Faeries or Thermo-Alchemist could make for a bevy of card draw. It would not surprise me to see Tandem Lookout appear in the sideboard of U/R decks with Thermo-Alchemist moving forward as a way to go ahead on cards if facing a removal light opponent.

Cower in Fear

Cower in Fear gives Black decks access to a less flexible, more expensive Electrickery. Black already has access to cards like Wail of the Nim and Festercreep to deal with token armies but Cower in Fear had the advantage of only hitting the opponent’s creatures. If Black based control makes a comeback — and given how important untapped mana and Cuombajj Witches will be it might — this Instant gives those decks access to an effect that can help to control the board early. Being an Instant also means it can be fetched by Mystical Teachings which gives those decks a pain free way to deal with a one-toughness army without the pain from Wail of the Nim. Cower in Fear is not splashy but it looks to be an important option in specific metagames.

Falkenrath Noble

Falkenrath Noble is one of my favorite cards of all time and the fact that we now have it as common fills me with joy. Blood Artist before it was cool, Falkenrath Noble rewards you for both killing creatures and having your own hit the bin. It already made an appearance in this article in the Orzhov Aristocrats deck and I am sure that it will find a home in any deck that wants to sacrifice for a profit. Falkenrath Noble may also find a home in new versions of Mono-Black Control. Those decks are often in need of quality 4-drops and the Noble plays right into the game plan of killing creatures and getting your own back with Unearth. Falkenrath Noble makes it so that the deck is less reliant on top decking a Gray Merchant of Asphodel and slightly better at playing a bleeder style game. Innocent Blood could be an important player in these decks as a way to turn on Unearth while also taking out threats. That being said it does look mighty silly in the face of multiple copies of Burning-Tree Emissary.


Falkenrath Noble may also find a home in a W/B tokens strategy. Token decks have long suffered from losing their offensive force to cards like Electrickery but Falkenrath Noble provides some insurance in the form of life drain. This strategy would also benefit from Harsh Sustenance from Fate Reforged and together these cards could provide enough offensive and protective value to make waves in Pauper.


Gnawing Zombie

Continuing the trend of 1/3 creatures with upside we have Gnawing Zombie. Once again we have a body that can block early but unlike Augur of Bolas the Zombie has potential to eat away at a life total in an appreciable manner. The drain ability is expensive but given enough time and fodder it can become a true threat. While this ability is certainly at home in the token deck above it may find firmer ground in the fringe Golgari Aristocrats deck. These Black and Green decks look to use a Carrion Feeder or Bloodthrone Vampire as a source of damage bursts thanks to Blisterpod, Brindle Shoat, and the like. Gnawing Zombie can play alongside Bloodbriar and Modern Masters 2017 companion Mortician Beetle to give the deck the potential to grind out games that might have previously ended in a board stall.


Grixis Slavedriver

Grixis Slavedriver provides a ton of stats for a reasonable cost. As a 4/4 for 6 mana the Zombie Giant is the perfect size to be fetched with a Fierce Empath. It also provides fertile fodder for both Wretched Gryff and It of the Horrid Swarm, reducing both to a single colored mana requirement while leaving a 2/2 Zombie behind. Using the Unearth ability on Grixis Slavedriver means that it is possible to Emerge out two Eldrazi in a single turn for 6 mana. If the game goes that long and you manage to pull that off there is a good chance you have already won.

Grixis Slavedriver also has a leaves play trigger for creating the token. Picking it up with Kor Skyfisher, Invasive Species, or Dream Stalker works just as well as having it die. Bouncing the new common is also a losing proposition as it leaves a friend behind. Finally there is always Ghostly Flicker and friends which can help create a horde of Zombie tokens ready to attack.

Mortician Beetle

Mortician Beetle is a rare from Rise of the Eldrazi and has been demoted to a common. Triggering off of any player sacrificing a creature the Beetle will play nicely with Chainer's Edict. The Insect does not have the ability to grow off of sacrificed permanents like Bloodbriar but by coming down on turn one means it has the ability to get rather large quickly. In an Aristocrats style deck the Beetle provides a cheap creature that can grow as sacrifice outlets do the dirty work and unlike Carrion Feeder the Beetle can block.

Mortician Beetle also gives a fringe combo deck another way to win the game. Ivy Lane Denizen, in conjunction with Safehold Elite (or Rendclaw Trow) and a sacrifice outlet can create an arbitrarily large number of enter the battlefield triggers. If the sacrifice outlet is a Carrion Feeder or Bloodthrone Vampire then that means a giant creature. Mortician Beetle makes it so that Viscera Seer is just as good for creating a game ending threat. Pair this set up with a Falkenrath Noble and now you have redundancy.


Magma Jet

Magma Jet is just a solid card. As discussed in my preview article it cannot be the center of a board control strategy but it can do a fine job supplementing other removal spells. Of note Magma Jet is better than I anticipated thanks to its ability to set up a Thunderous Wrath.

Scorched Rusalka

Token strategies appear to be one of the big Pauper winners coming out of Modern Masters 2017 and Scorched Rusalka should provide them with some additional reach. For a single red mana the Rusalka can convert any creature into an extra point of damage. Token decks are well suited to flood the board and the ability to prevent an Echoing Decay or Echoing Truth from ruining the day while also dealing reducing a life total. Scorched Rusalka also happens to be a Spirit which means it works with Thief of Hope as a way to be pesky. Combining these with Ashen-Skin Zubera and Ember-Fist Zubera could make for some big swings in the middle stages of the game but that requires quite a bit of mana.

If Scorched Rusalka shows up early in its tenure my guess it will be in a Burning-Tree Emissary deck. Not only can it be cast by the Red half of the Emissary it can also turn on Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and potentially Scab-Clan Mauler. The Rusalka can even eke out extra damage from the Lava Axe that is Keldon Marauders and can set up Death Spark for additional pings.


Scourge Devil

Scourge Devil is expensive but can act as an anthem two times over. Unlike Goblin Bushwhacker the Scourge Devil only requires a single Red mana which opens up the number of decks where it is a reasonable option. 5 mana for the front side is not realistic but being able to Unearth it for 2r which means it is attacking as a 4/3 looks much better. Getting it into the graveyard is not a problem in Red with Faithless Looting but if I were running a Scourge Devil deck I would look to Song of Blood. Putting any creatures into the graveyard and with the Song and then Unearthing the Devil could mean quite a bit of damage. Paired with other Unearth creatures and Kruin Striker and you have the start of a potent combo-aggro deck.


Revive

While we may never get Eternal Witness in Pauper, Green is making a case to be the best color at getting things back from the graveyard. Pulse of Murasa has become a format staple and Grapple with the Past is just on the other side of playable. Revive may be a key card for stitching together a graveyard based strategy. While Revive cannot get back Lands it can get back just about anything else and given enough time, working with Grapple and Pulse gives this theoretical Green deck a real toolbox feel. Provided, of course, Bojuka Bog stays away.

Slime Molding

Slime Molding can make a big token. That is really it. If a Populate deck ever shows up then maybe, just maybe, Slime Molding will see play. While the chances of that happening are minimal I want to take a moment to appreciate Slime Molding. I’ve been playing Magic long enough to have been impressed by Krakilin and then surprised at the cheaper Ivy Elemental. And now I have lived long enough to see a version of this card printed at common.

Call of the Conclave

Moving on to the multicolored section we start with Call of the Conclave. A 3/3 for 2 mana merits attention and the fact it is easy to copy with Wake the Reflections warrants deeper exploration. Unlike creatures, the 3/3 token will die if bounced by a card like Vapor Snag. While Battle Screech and Kuldotha Rebirth get around this downside by making multiple tokens, Call comes with no such upside and thus comes with a liability. Perhaps a deck will emerge with Call of the Conclave, Giantbaiting, Wake the Reflections, and Sigil Blessing but without the reach of Red it is likely to come up short.

Dinrova Horror

If Dimir Flicker remains a contender in the new Pauper it may be on the back of Dinrova Horror. The ability to cast Recoil every turn thanks to Ghostly Flicker and Archaeomancer can blow up a board as well as a hand. As noted before Chittering Rats is poised to lose value due to Thunderous Wrath but Dinrova Horror does not have the same drawback. Now at 6 mana the Horror is slower than Chittering Rats but the Blue and Black deck rarely went for the combo at the earliest possible moment regardless. As a 4/4 Dinrova Horror also is a serviceable clock meaning that once it hits the board it presents a real threat as opposed to a infantry of 2/2s.


Ground Assault
Spike Jester

Ground Assault and Spike Jester are two cards that, while interesting to have at common, are not going to make a huge difference. There is no deck that wants Ground Assault that could not make better use of Skred. Spike Jester is an awkward 2-drop that also has one toughness. The combination is good for one thing, and that’s keeping Jester on the sidelines.

Gift of Orzhova

After all that we come to the final card in Gift of Orzhova. Because Hexproof needed another option. While Armadillo Cloak provides both evasion and a boost in life the Gift grants flying. Some builds of the deck opt for a copy of Lifelink main to help in race situations and I could see Gift replacing the singleton.

Gift of Orzhova has another special ability in that it is both a White and Black spell. Nightsky Mimic decks crop up from time to time built on the ability to swing in with 4/4 flying creatures turn after turn. Supplemented by Nip Gwyllion, Edge of the Divinity, and Unmake, this strategy can pile on the damage rather quickly. Gift of Orzhova turns any creature into an actual threat and may help propel this deck back to prominence.


Out of the 22 cards shifted to common in Modern Masters 2017 I can easily see 19 of them seeing regular play. Pauper is going to look different come March 23rd but I for one cannot wait to test the new waters.

But Adam, if you’re listening, take pity on us next time around and give us some answers, not just threats, kay?


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