This week marks the triumphant return of the Core Set to Magic’s standard release schedule. While originally, the Core Sets of Unlimited Edition through Tenth Edition had been composed exclusively of reprints, with the advent of Magic 2010, R&D began adding new, never before printed cards to the Core Set. And when they did the results began to stand out. From Baneslayer Angel’s reign in Standard to the powerful Titan cycle, including Primeval Titan, whose impact still affects Modern play, the new Core Sets designs surely left their mark.
In the world of Pauper, by far the two most impactful new cards to be added via the Core Sets were Ponder and Preordain. Paired with one very important reprint in Lightning Bolt, whose Core Set reprint in Magic 2010 ensured not only its Modern legality but also Magic Online Pauper legality, these three cards have formed the foundation of Pauper’s power level.
But sadly beyond these big three, cards that have seen their original printings in Core Sets don’t feel like they have a high hit rate in Pauper. With the rise of the Design team’s philosophy of “New World Order”, Wizards has been especially careful to dial back the complexity level of common cards, especially for the Core Sets that are skewed toward a beginner’s product.
So what’s left? Sure, there was Triplicate Spirits, a card that wrecked Magic 2015 Limited, and a card that sees some play in Pauper token decks. And there’s Squadron Hawk, White’s favorite “Draw 3”. And there have been a basket of other Core Set cards to see varying levels of Pauper play: Doom Blade, Viscera Seer, Jace's Erasure, Stonehorn Dignitary, Arbor Elf, Archaeomancer, Terramorphic Expanse, Murder, Gladecover Scout, Predatory Sliver . . .
Okay, I take it back . . . Core Sets are awesome. And they have brought staple cards to nearly every deck in Pauper. Can we hope the same for Magic 2019?
Here’s the Grading Scale I 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.)
Cavalry Drillmaster: 1.5 —This is essentially a “French Vanilla” 2/1 with a stapled-on combat trick. While it could push through damage in a White aggro deck, I think White’s other 2-drops aggro cards are better.
Revitalize: 1.5 — One deck that doesn’t exist in Pauper is a White-based control deck, the kind that just wants to stay alive and win eventually. And even if that deck did exist, I’m not sure this card would make its 75, but it might. Cantripping at instant speed is niiiice.
Take Vengeance: 2.0 — Design has decided that White should get Assassinate, and at one mana cheaper. We saw a version of this card as Sheer Drop in Battle for Zendikar, one with the added bonus of Awaken 3. Having the base version in White’s toolbox is a nice new addition.
Trusty Packbeast: 2.5 — This is White’s most promising card. While White has had Auramancer forever, giving White an artifact Auramancer is a nice addition, especially with artifacts that sacrifice themselves like Chromatic Star, or even the artifact lands like Ancient Den.
Aven Wind Mage: 1.5 — The natural home for this card is a Xerox deck, a deck that runs as many cantrips as possible, but that deck already runs Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops. I’m not sure where this fits, but it could be a beater in a midrange deck next to Compulsive Research.
Gearsmith Prodigy: 2.0 — Blue doesn’t generally get 2/2s for 1, and this plays well with artifacts which is an easy synergy in Pauper. Maybe we’ll see a Blue version of the White Cyborg deck, a White artifact aggro deck running cards like Ardent Recruit, Auriok Sunchaser, Vault Skirge, Bonesplitter, and the almost color-shifted version of this card, Court Homunculus.
Salvager of Secrets: 1.5 — A Mono-Blue version of Izzet Chronarch. Or a 2/2 Archaeomancer. Most decks that run Archaeomancer aren’t trying to win by attacking with it, so I’m doubtful adding a point of power for an extra is worth it.
Epicure of Blood: 3.0 — The power level here is awesome. Defiant Bloodlord had this same effect on a seven-mana rare. Having Sanguine Bond downgraded to common and stapled to a 4/4 with an easier mana cost is not an effect I was expecting from a Core Set. I feel like this is the backbone of a deck we haven’t seen built yet: a lifegain combo deck with this as its kill card.
Skeleton Archer: 1.5 — Both Fathom Fleet Cutthroat and Hooded Assassin could finish off a damaged creature, but doing one damage to any target, including the opponent, is pretty neat, and a new effect in Black. I doubt it will replace Bloodhunter Bat in combo kill decks that want to loop the card to win the game, but I like having this in Black’s toolbox.
Sovereign's Bite: 1.5 — I got asked about this card recently as a way for suicide lack aggro decks to race. I’m not buying it, either as an efficient way to do damage, or even as the best way stay alive when you’re paying for Carnophage triggers. But I could be wrong.
Viashino Pyromaster: 2.5 — Keldon Marauders plays in similar space that it almost is guaranteed to Shock the opponent and can possibly get in a little bit more damage. I’m not convinced this is the best way for Burn decks to efficiently count to 20. But I was wrong about Ghitu Lavarunner, so I’m curious to see what this will do.
Catalyst Elemental: 2.0 — Ramp effects are powerful, especially built-in free ones that require no other activation cost, like we see on Tinder Wall. The deck for this card doesn’t exist yet, but it’s out there somewhere.
Goblin Instigator: 3.0 This is Red’s best common in Magic 2019. Last month I wrote all about how this card could do mighty things for Pauper Goblins since it has awesome synergies with cards like Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Cohort, and Mogg War Marshal.
Go check it out here.
Sparktongue Dragon: 1.5 — To be more than a Red Lucent Liminid, we need to invest eight mana. Maybe a Green / Red Tron deck wants this, but at 8 mana, it probably just wants Ulamog's Crusher. Still our dreams of common Glorybringer are alive if we are flush with to spend.
Elvish Rejuvenator: 1.5 — Pauper already has Wood Elves, Farhaven Elf, and Sylvan Ranger. The one thing this card can do that those cards cannot is find non-basic lands like Bojuka Bog. Could that matter? I don’t know that Green needs it, but it’s a new tool.
Rhox Oracle: 1.5 — This feels like a easier to cast Kavu Climber, so maybe a big mana Green deck could do something with it. But most big mana decks just want Mulldrifter or Wretched Gryff if they are trying to draw more cards.
Have fun at your Magic 2019 Prereleases this weekend, and if you’re into Pauper, don’t forget to stock up on Goblin Instigators!