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A Pauper History of Magic: '94 - '96

Last week we looked at the standout commons of Magic’s first four expansions: Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark. Building on the power commons of Limited Edition, we saw that we are still years away from New World Order in terms of efficiency, two-for-ones, and common cards that can take over a game.

And we saw a TON of powerful Pauper-worthy commons. Sometimes even being the second or third best at what you do is still good enough for Constructed play since redundancy can matter.

This week we look at some of the sets that didn’t age quite as well as the original four horsemen expansions, mostly due to decreased power level and overprinting. Can we find more hidden gems among the commons offerings of Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands and Alliances?

Fallen Empires

Goblin Grenade: Five damage for a single mana is an utterly incredible rate on par with a luckily drawn Thunderous Wrath. And considering the tribal synergies of Goblins, an already existing Pauper deck that thrives on cards that make multiple bodies for one card, making this an addition would be a huge upgrade over Reckless Abandon.

But it is not to be. Goblin Grenade has never received a MTGO legal common reprint, landing it on the short list of most wanted paper commons to be ported in Pauper.

High Tide: Considering this Blue common was so overprinted that it had multiple artworks on the common sheet, it’s pretty incredible that this common became the namesake of a Legacy combo deck. But I believe that the moral of the story is that any card that lets you cheat on producing extra mana is pretty dangerous.

Sadly, High Tide is one of the handful of most impactful paper commons never to receive an MTGO reprint. Is it too broken for Pauper? Probably.

Hymn to Tourach: Wow. So far Fallen Empires is gangbusters here on the powerful commons. Yet another Legacy staple, Hymn to Tourach is one of the three or so best discard spells ever printed. The random clause is crippling with its ability to knock out lands from an opponent’s hand in the early turns of the game. Many times Wizards has tried to print a fixed version of Hymn from Stupor to Wrench Mind before finally settling on Mind Rot.

There is a strong debate right now whether or not Hymn To Tourach would be a good reprint for Pauper. One of the classic Pauper decks of the format, Mono Black Devotion has fallen off significantly and could use a shot in the arm. But is Hymn too busted for Legacy Lite? Like Goblin Grenade and High Tide, Hymn to Tourach is one of the five most requested paper-only commons to be reprinted for future Pauper eligibility.

Icatian Javelineers: While this card seems weak on its surface, it is a rare example of White direct damage.

The strength of Icatian Javelineers as a Pauper playable directly ties to the powerful X/1 creatures of the format, notable cards like Quirion Ranger and Delver of Secrets.

Order of Leitbur and Order of the Ebon Hand: The Pump Knights were an awesome variant on the Limited Edition originals White Knight and Black Knight. While Order of the Ebon Hand (and its Ice Age clone Knight of Stromgald) saw the most Constructed play as part of Type 2s “Black Summer”, Order of Leitbur also served as a great foil to that same Necropotence-based deck.

Both of these cards see minor Pauper play but are great as protection creatures against each of their respective colors. Since Black is stronger control color in Pauper than White, Order of Leitbur might have the edge except for popularity of Black’s Chainer's Edicts.

Ice Age

Brainstorm: The defining card of the Legacy format was originally far, far from it. Being able to see three cards deep, only to put the same two unwanted cards back on your deck and be forced to redraw them is affectionately called “Brainstorm locking” yourself. And without the free shuffle effects of the Onslaught fetchlands, Brainstorm was a glorified cantrip.

While Brainstorm needs help in Pauper to be as effective a way to filter cards as in Legacy, it has a couple of friends in Evolving Wilds, Ash Barrens and Ponder which can all shuffle away your unwanted cards for you and Preordain, which will put them on bottom of your library.

Fyndhorn Elves: One of Magic’s first functional reprints, the ability to play 8x mana elves in a single 60-card deck made Green ramp into an archetype. My first Constructed deck ever ran a playset of these, Llanowar Elves and two Fyndhorn Elders to power out such back-in-the-day threats as Ernham Djinn and Force of Nature.

The Elves deck is a long staple of Pauper and one of the few archetypes that readily ports into both Modern and Legacy play. Ironically, Pauper Elves usually only runs 8 out of a possible 12 slots of Fyndhorn Elves, Llanowar Elves, and Elvish Mystic due to better options available.

Hydroblast and Pyroblast: The functional advantage of these two interrupts versus their Limited Edition variants is that they can target a spell or permanent that is not of the required color, which most of the time does nothing, but occasionally can matter. The downside is that they are more vulnerable to spell redirection from cards like Misdirection or Spellskite.

It’s an accident of Magic Online that these two are Pauper legal and Blue Elemental Blast and Red Elemental Blast are not, since the former received a common printing in Masters Edition.

Incinerate: Worse Lightning Bolts can still be pretty incredible cards. Not only was this a Constructed staple in many Standard formats, but it has long been a default Pack 1 Pick 1 common in any Limited format where it has been printed.

Pauper Burn will occasionally run some number of Incinerates in its two-mana slot, but we have been spoiled by having so many legal 1-mana deal threes: Lava Spike, Rift Bolt, and Chain Lightning all get maxed out as Lightning Bolts #s 5-16 before any Incinerates make the cut.

Mystic Remora: “The Fish” is most famous for its Commander applications, but it is also an Eternal playable especially with imbalance of non-creature spells over creature spells in Magic’s oldest formats.

Sadly, Mystic Remora is not Pauper legal since it only received a Magic Online printing as an upgraded uncommon in Masters Edition.

Orcish Lumberjack and Tinder Wall: These two unusual Gruul ramp cards can do funny things especially in unfair decks. Orcish Lumberjack plays a lot like Lake of the Dead, cashing in any spare Forest for three extra colored mana. Tinder Wall plays like a kind of primordial Simian Spirit Guide to net free Red mana, especially in graveyard based combo decks.

While I have witnessed Tinder Wall see play in Pauper’s version of “Ooops . . . ! All Spells!” alongside Balustrade Spy, I am still waiting for the right Orcish Lumberjack deck to emerge.

Ray of Command: A broken Limited card and one whose variants rarely see print today at anything less than 5 mana and at uncommon. Temporary stealing has been color pie shifted to Red, usually on sorceries like Threaten, but occasionally on instants like the backbreaking but costly Act of Aggression.

While not a Pauper playable at 4 mana, this was Ice Age’s most busted common for Limited.

Snow-Covered Basic Lands: The snow lands were a dubious theme in Ice Age since there seemed to be more cards that hosed them than benefited from their choice of play. But a reprint cycle in Coldsnap provided stronger Snow incentives including Scrying Sheets and Skred.

These are big ticket items in Pauper today since the most popular deck in the format, Izzet Delver runs a playset of 11-12 Snow-Covered Islands and Snow-Covered Mountains, each costing $1-$4 per snow-covered basic.

Songs of the Damned: Any card that adds an uncapped amount of mana for just b has powerful combo potential, even if it takes a unique deck construction to unlock its power.

A few Pauper dredge-based graveyard decks will run Songs of the Damned to generate huge amounts of mana to fuel Crypt Rats or Drain Life. It most often pairs with Gnaw to the Bone.

Homelands

Memory Lapse: This spell is one of the most elegant designs I have ever seen and in tempo based strategies can be an upgrade over the tried and true Counterspell.

Memory Lapse is definitely a Pauper worthy counter that finds an occasional home in Tron, Turbo Fog, or one-shot combo decks like Izzet Blitz or Tireless Tribe combo.

Merchant Scroll: How did this super powerful Blue tutor get buried in the commons of a lackluster set like Homelands? Most often a commander staple with occasional Vintage play (thanks to Ancestral Recall and Force of Will), Merchant Scroll is tailor made for Eternal formats with all their powerful Blue instants.

Again, this is one of the half a dozen or so most powerful paper commons missing from Pauper. It’s only Magic Online printing was as an Eighth Edition uncommon.

Serrated Arrows: Once this saw this card see a bizarre amount of tournament Magic play due to a one-time rule that decks had to run a certain number of cards from each legal Magic expansion. While the original Sligh decks got around this rule by including tournament powerhouse Dwarven Traders, the control decks of the format fulfilled their Homelands requirement with Serrated Arrows.

Arrows pops up as an effective sideboard weapon in certain metagames especially against cards like Tireless Tribe. Because it can be bounced or blinked, it doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to three uses either, thanks to Glint Hawk, Kor Skyfisher, and Ghostly Flicker.

Alliances

Arcane Denial: An odd counterspell with a steep drawback. The trick to this card is to find ways to push the drawback into an advantage. Commander does it through politics . . . 

 . . .  Pauper Turbo Fog does it by making you seriously question whether drawing more cards is actually good for your health.

Gorilla Shaman: Until a recent treasure chest promo printing this was a 25 ticket common on Magic Online. I wonder if the creators of this card knew how powerful a hoser the Mox Monkey could be.

Pauper’s most powerful hate card, Gorilla Shaman is the single best answer to decks that play the five Mirrodin artifact lands, most notable Affinity, but also currently Boros Monarch.

Storm Crow: “Caw! Caw!”

Shhh! Let us not speak of He Who Must Not Be Named.

Join us next time as we dig into Mirage!