Battlebond is upon us! As purveyors of a non-rotating format, we Pauper players get excited every time a new set releases to see if anything new will shake up our format! Will there be brand new cards that slot into an existing deck? Or will there be cards that inspire us to build a new never-before-seen deck? And if it's a reprint set, like one of the Masters sets, will there be exciting rarity shift downgrades providing us access to cards we already knew about but have never before available in Pauper?
The good news concerning Battlebond for Pauper players is, because it is not a Standard-legal set, its designers are not bound by the rules of New World Order, meaning that we don't have to expect the same reigns on complexity at common we have come to expect in recent year sets. And a few new cards in Battlebond seem to live up to this potential, both with power levels and also complexity knobs we're not used to seeing in Standard-legal sets.
Here's the bad news about Battlebond: there are few if any significant rarity downgrades among the commons printed in the set. On my scan of the 106 commons printed in Battlebond, I could not find one significant playable common that had been downgraded from uncommon or rare, unlike recent Masters sets which had gift-wrapped for us the likes of Dinrova Horror, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Pauper's new #1 most commonly played creature, Augur of Bolas. Maybe this was intentional on the part of the designers as to not shake up Pauper too much without having play-tested the cards. Or maybe it wasn't necessary for the set's design.
The result of this omission of significant downgrades is that we will be almost exclusively examining the newly printed commons of Battlebond to see if any of them might possibly see speculative play in Pauper.
Here's the Grading Scale I will use:
1: Unlikely to See Play -- Powerful at a glance, but underpowered for the standards of Pauper, or obsolete because of a less expensive variant. Examples: Open Fire, Impeccable Timing, Eviscerate, Territorial Hammerskull. (N.B. I will generally omit the "1s" from my set reviews.)
Aurora Champion: 1.5 -- I'm not hopeful on this card, but it has one thing going for it: a relevant creature type. If there are any future tribal payoffs for Warriors, this card could benefit.
Azra Bladeseeker: 1.5 -- 3 mana creatures rarely see Pauper play, but this one comes with a free "rummage". Could it possibly set up a reanimator package or flashback suite?
Jungle Wayfinder: 1.5 -- In Limited, it is debatable if this card is better than Centaur Courser. In Pauper, it's matchup dependent. Many opposing Pauper decks benefit little from searching up a basic land, like Tron decks, which sometimes run none at all. Plus it's another Elf.
Pierce Strider: 2.0 -- This one almost slipped by me as a downgrade. I like it a lot more than Peace Strider because the latter is just an overcosted Lone Missionary while the former is has an ETB effect that makes the opponent lose life at a better rate than Bloodhunter Bat.
Soaring Show-Off: 2.0 -- Each player drawing a card isn't great as a symmetrical effect, but being able to Ghostly Flicker the card either to draw out your deck or mill out your opponent, or do both simultaneously is something new.
And sadly, that's it. The basic lands of Battlebond are all gorgeous, featuring on-color images and scenes of the famous Valor's Reach. But unless a deck emerges that is waiting in the wings from a future printing, I am not optimistic about any Battlebond cards seeing Pauper play.
The most promising collection of cards seem to be centered around the Familiars decks, a combo deck that seeks to generate excess mana by looping cards like Archaeomancer, Sea Gate Oracle, Prosperous Pirates, Ghostly Flicker, Compulsive Research and Snap to untap excess multi-mana lands like Azorius Chancery and Dimir Aqueduct. So the possible addition of cards that can add mana, draw cards, or return combo pieces to hand with cost reduction capabilities show us that the potential is there if the right brewer can put it all together. Currently, Flicker Pirates is not a commonly played deck, mostly because it eats up so much time to learn and effectively complete the loops on Magic Online. Whereas in Paper Magic, we are allowed to demonstrate a loop and say something like "Repeat 50 times, mill you out." Battlebond so far is a Paper-only product, but there is a good chance its cards will at least be added to MTGO Treasure Chests, if not a future set. We'll see.
An Editorial Correction
Finally, I wanted to note a card that I was wrong about in my set review for Dominaria, and that card is Ghitu Lavarunner. I had erroneously thought this card would see little play because of how many Red 2/2s for it had to compete with: Mogg Conscripts, Goblin Cohort, Jackal Familiar, et. al. I was wrong. This card perfectly slots into Mono Red Burn, and the little wizard that could has successfully burned my face in numerous matches since seeing Pauper legality.
The trick to this card is to not play it on turn one. Wait until you have already played a couple of burn spells, then drop it as a 2/2 haste creature and bust in. Ghitu Lavarunner is an especially good play against an opponent who is tapped out. Say on turn one you suspend a Rift Bolt, then on turn two, your Rift Bolt comes off suspend, and you follow up with Lava Spike. Then after both burn spells are in the bin, you can drop the Ghitu Lavarunner and swing for 2 with haste, forcing your opponent to use their mana to kill it on their next turn or immediately take 2 more.
This new Dominaria common is so good that I am regularly seeing Burn decks forego their former package of Thermo-Alchemist and Firebrand Archer in favor of Ghitu Lavarunner and a blast from the past, Keldon Marauders as their creature suite, shifting away from their former "Spells-matter" package and back toward raw speed. While time will tell which is the most consistent Burn deck construction for Pauper, it is notable just how much play this card has already seen, displacing two regular Burn staples from the past two years of Pauper play.