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The Pauper 8 from 2016


For Pauper in 2016, the past was most certainly prologue. The defining trait for much of the year was something familiar in a slightly different skin. Peregrine Drake came in with Eternal Masters and ushered in an era of dominance the likes of which Pauper had not seen since Temporal Fissure and Cloudpost were legal.

Peregrine Drake combo represented both the best and worst of Pauper as a format. Playing with the entire history of commons gives rise to some strong interactions and can potentially unleash some unfair things. Abundant mana rituals and cheap cantrips gave rise to Storm combo; Invigorate and Glistener Elf proved untenable; the “free” spells from Urza’s Saga and Urza’s Legacy could generate infinite mana with Ghostly Flicker. These interactions represent a beautiful side of Magic — the legacy of the game’s history.

The other side of this is the fact that Pauper cannot always handle the result. Commons have a very specific role in the greater scheme of Magic and as such are not going to be able to fight what Pauper produces 100% of the time. That was the case with Cloud of Faeries and it was the case with Peregrine Drake. Yet the card, and deck, dominated the format for half the year. Any retrospective that ignored this would be a disservice.

Peregrine Drake was the single most important card printed in the past year. It became the engine of the best deck in the format and pushed other strategies into the cellar. Drake combo also realigned the format so that when it was finally banned some different decks were able to emerge as contenders. Similarly once Peregrine Drake was removed from the conversation Pauper was able to explore the rest of the sets released in 2016.

Oath of the Gatewatch, Eternal Masters, Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon, Kaladesh, and even Commander 2016 all made contributions that were only fully realized after Peregrine Drake was no longer a factor. I was planning on doing a top five list until I went through every common that was printed this year and there were well more than a handful worth of recognition. With that in mind, here are my Top 8 Pauper cards from 2016:

8. Elvish Vanguard

Elvish Vanguard

Elvish Vanguard found an immediate home in Elves combo. The deck has always been resilient to pinpoint removal but suffered in the face of Crypt Rats and other sweepers. Elvish Vanguard provided the deck with a threat that could survive all but the most brutal Crypt Rats activation. On a turn that starts with Distant Melody a Vanguard could easily grow to an Ulamog's Crusher or larger. The problem with the Vanguard is that it only got tall and could not punch through.

Elvish Vanguard would be higher except it is the ultimate win-more card. There are very few game that Elves would win if not for the Onslaught rare. Its presence has not made the deck that much better in the face of removal — board wipes are still excellent especially when backed up with a Geth's Verdict or Chainer's Edict. An unanswered Vanguard is no joke and can end the game, but just like many of the best creatures it still dies to removal.

7. Ash Barrens

Ash Barrens

Pauper players are always pining for the greener pastures of other formats’ mana. The Khans of Tarkir gain lands and original Ravnica Block bounce lands provide versatility alongside the slow fetch lands of Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. Ash Barrens is something completely different. It taps for mana on its own but also can set up mana in the latter stages of the game without being a dead draw when you desperately need a land (any land!) off the top. Ash Barrens has started to show up in decks that want access to multiple colors and its stock is sure to rise.

It comes in at the seven spot because it is far from flashy. Barrens is a role player that helps decks function without doing anything special. There are plenty of lands in Pauper that can provide multiple colors of mana — Crumbling Vestige and Warped Landscape came out this year too — but few have the utility of Ash Barrens.

6. Rally the Peasants

Rally the Peasants

Anthem effects are abundant in Pauper. The ability to generate an army of tokens and then swing in for lethal thanks to a card like Guardians' Pledge or Fortify has been a staple strategy since Vintage Masters brought Battle Screech to the table. Normally Mono-White, these decks sought a delicate balance between having enough force multipliers and forces to multiply. Rally the Peasants gave these decks two doses of offense in a single card.

Why isn’t Rally the Peasants higher? While incredibly powerful it is an effect easily found in other cards. Token decks existed prior to Rally the Peasants and if this card had not been shifted to common they would still find a way to succeed. Like our next card Rally is not unique, just a new take.

5. Night's Whisper

Night's Whisper

Sign in Blood has been heavily played since its first printing in Magic 2010. Pauper is a format where any spell that can put you up a card warrants exploration and Night's Whisper gives non-Blue decks a way to refuel their hand. The casting cost reduces the reliance on

Black mana and makes it possible for decks to branch out to other colors.

Again, Night's Whisper is not reinventing the wheel but rather provides a needed effect in a new look. The first half of the Top are all similar in this respect — they are good cards but fill a role rather than provide something completely new. On the other side of the fold it is a different story.

4. Pulse of Murasa

Pulse of Murasa

I really wanted Pulse of Murasa to be higher on the list. The ability to get back a creature (or land) and boost a life total by a hefty amount makes this card a must for any midrange deck that can muster the mana. If Pauper is a format defined by two-for-ones then Pulse of Murasa is one of the best. It can either get back your own card advantage creature or negate the efficacy of an opponent’s play. Supremely versatile, Pulse is different than the cards that precede it on this list because it does something new. There have been Raise Dead effects before and cards that gain life but stapling the two together has been perfect for the format where you need to protect your life total and creatures die often.

3. Thermo-Alchemist


Strong repeatable effects are tough to come by at common. Cards like Sparksmith and Timberwatch Elf are considered mistakes by the modern design paradigm. Thermo-Alchemist is a fine card for Limited but it really shines in Pauper. An abundance of cheap burn — Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Lava Spike, and Rift Bolt — make it so the damage piles on quick. Burn was already a fringe contender and Thermo-Alchemist gave it a stronger draw.

Burn was on the outs in Pauper thanks to the pervasive presence of the Khans of Tarkir gain lands. When many decks start out at effectively 23 life a deck that can deal 21 looks far less impressive. Thermo-Alchemist makes it so that instead of averaging a Lightning Bolt each spell in Burn approximates a Fireblast. As of Eldritch Moon Burn became a deck capable of dealing far more than a starting life total while also diversifying its threats. Burn used to be a deck where it was safe to side out creature removal and that is no longer the case thanks to Thermo-Alchemist.

2. Gearseeker Serpent

Gearseeker Serpent

What happens when you take an already top flight deck and give it one of the biggest threats in the format? You get Gearseeker Serpent in Affinity. There is not much to say about this card except that despite the lack of a keyword it most certainly has Affinity for Artifacts. Gearseeker gives Affinity some staying power. If Myr Enforcer and Carapace Forger beatdown fails and if Atog and Fling are not viable a Gearseeker Serpent can wait out most board stalls before becoming a mana sink and ends the game in short order.

The thing about Gearseeker Serpent is that it has one of the more aggressive mana costs for Affinity. Having two Blue symbols in the upper right hand corner makes it risky to run too many copies for fear of clogging a hand early. Most Affinity decks have adopted a single copy although some have gone up to three.

1. Thraben Inspector

Thraben Inspector

If you had told me at the start of the year that a White 1-drop would be the card at the top of my list I would probably have laughed in your face. Yet Thraben Inspector does it all. It comes down early and replaces itself in time. It plays well with both Glint Hawk (thanks to the Clue) and Kor Skyfisher. This interaction is so strong it helped to push Kor Skyfisher decks back to the forefront of the Pauper metagame and helped streamline the deck back to two colors. Recently it has the added benefit of setting up the Flashback on Battle Screech to help enable a win from nowhere with our sixth ranked card.

Thraben Inspector is the perfect new common for Pauper. It is cheap and has an immediate impact. It can generate a card’s worth of value while also maintaining strong synergy with cards that came before. It asks little and does so much. And we’ve only scratched the surface.

2016 was great year for Pauper. If the trend of high powered commons continues 2017 is poised to be even better. Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Modern Msters 2017, and Hour of Devastation have a high bar to clear. Hopefully they meet the challenge.

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