Guilds of Ravnica is upon us! One of the most hotly anticipated large fall sets in years, this new release returns us to one of Magic's most popular settings complete with much desired reprints (aka the Shocklands), and a conscientious shift back to multicolored Magic. Will it mean the end of Goblin Chainwhirler in Standard? Time will tell. But we all can hope and dream.
For Pauper fans, this new set feels like it is designed for Pauper in a way that many of the recent Standard set releases have not. There are many new cards that not only complement existing strategies, but are priced to move. And most excitingly, of the four new guild mechanics, three of them open up exciting new design space for Pauper: Jump-Start, Undergrowth, and Surveil. I am excited to see what Pauper brewers will do with these new cards. But more importantly, I will highlight for you where some of these new cards have a chance to fit in existing Pauper decks.
Here's the Pauper 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.)
Healer's Hawk: 2.0 - In an Eternal format like Pauper, 1-drops are always important to consider. And if you ask me, Suntail Hawk with Lifelink looks like a viable addition to White Weenie. In truth, this card is a White-shifted version of Vault Skirge, which is already a Pauper staple in Mono-Green Stompy. Cards that fill out the low end of a mana curve and which race well are important inclusions to any aggro deck, and Healer's Hawk works exceptionally well with White Weenie's strategy of Auras, Bonesplitter, and Ramosian Rally.
Hunted Witness: 3.0 - The reason this card gets the highest rating of any card in our Pauper review is that it is a functional variant of an already popular Pauper card, Doomed Traveler. That this set trades Flying for Lifelink on its 1/1 tokens is really interesting. The decks most interested in a card like this are either White Weenie decks or Aristocrat-style sacrifice decks. And for both of these decks, Lifelink is worthwhile.
Sworn Companions: 1.5 - I'm a little more skeptical about this one. While making two lifelink tokens is powerful, this card is almost a functional reprint of Queen's Commission which saw about zero Pauper play. Most token decks prefer cards like Raise the Alarm since getting a good rate is better than Lifelink.
Take Heart: 2.0 - While a weak pump spell with minor upside on the surface, this card actually seems like a great racing card for White Weenie against other Aggro strategies. Consider a card like Goblin War Strike that converts your board presence into a Lava Axe. This card doesn't just help you win a combat, it also gains back 2-6 life in the right deck. And while life gain by itself is weak, strong incidental life gain on an appropriately costed card is quite appealing.
Maximize Altitude: 2.5 - I know it doesn't look like much, but Jump-Start really makes this card. In a Kiln Fiend style deck, getting evasion plus two guaranteed spell triggers off this card is huge upside. On turn 3 this card is +8/+2 and Flying to your Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops, and if you play it after a Gush, you should have more than enough cards to discard for Jump-Start.
Radical Idea: 2.0 - On the surface this looks like a weaker version of Think Twice. Except in certain Reanimator builds, being able to discard an Ulamog's Crusher or a Striped Riverwinder or just fuel a Gurmag Angler might be more valuable that gaining an extra card. Both Surveil and Jump-Start look like excellent ways to enable these Exhume driven decks, as we'll see with other Guilds of Ravnica cards to come.
Unexplained Disappearance: 2.0 - Surveil makes this card. Being able to set up the top of your library with Brainstorm or Preordain and then bin a Reanimator target at instant speed with Surveil looks like an awesome way to set up an Exhume at the end of your opponent's turn. I would not be surprised at all if a month into the new Pauper season the most improved deck is Reanimator.
Burglar Rat: 2.0 - Did you like Ravenous Rats? Now you can play eight of them! While trading the words "Target player" to "Each Opponent" will hardly affect its Pauper playability, it's cool to me that you can start with a deck of eight of these. Or add in a playset of Chittering Rats and Liliana's Specters and you can have attrition party!
Mephitic Vapors: 2.0 - A slightly less cost effective variation of Shrivel could see Pauper play just on the back of the Surveil mechanic. Shrivel itself is a sideboard card, so if I was already interested in playing Reanimator, this would be a functional improvement over Shrivel as it enables my own strategy.
Fire Urchin: 1.5 - While not nearly as powerful as Kiln Fiend, maybe this card slots well into a deck like Mono-Red Heroic alongside Akroan Crusader. Not having to target the creature with a spell for it to get a buff is powerful indeed since attacking as a 3/3 Trample on Turn-3 after casting Lightning Bolt is big game. The downside? Trades down to opponent's Lightning Bolt.
Maximize Velocity: 2.5 - Like Maximize Altitude, this Jump-Start Sorcery feels tailor-made for Kiln Fiend decks. Expedite was already a scary card in those decks because it took away the one turn window the opponent had to prepare for the lethal assault. Now you can have +8 / +2 and Haste on your beater to win from nowhere, or just threaten Haste with every new creature you deploy later in the game. I strongly imagine one or both of these finds a Pauper home fast.
Kraul Foragers: 2.0 - Gnaw to the Bone stapled onto a large creature feels like a worthy addition for Pauper's Tortured Existence decks. It is trivially easy to stock your graveyard in Pauper thanks to cards like Satyr Wayfinder, Grisly Salvage, Mulch, and Stinkweed Imp. If that deck wants yet another grindy creature and one that can be recycled via Grave Scrabbler, this new addition could be a big one.
Portcullis Vine: 2.0 - Anytime we see a cheap Defender with a relevant ability, the natural home is the Axebane Guardian-based Freed From the Real combo deck. This new wall lets you trade Defenders to dig deeper into your deck for combo pieces, which feels very worthy for a single .
Hypothesizzle: 2.5 - Aside from being the coolest name in Guilds of Ravnica, Hypothesizzle is a built in 3-for-1 instant that screams to me Pauper Tron. It digs, it discards to set up Pulse of Murasa or Mnemonic Wall, it's removal, and most importantly, it's an instant. Win-Win-Win.
Notion Rain: 2.5 - The Dimir version of Read the Bones is a strict upgrade since stocking the graveyard via Surveil 2 is much more powerful than Scry 2. Coming soon to a Dimir Alchemy, Mystical Teachings, or Reanimator deck near you!
Rhizome Lurcher: 2.5 - The beefiest Pauper creature in years, in the aforementioned Tortured Existence deck this has the potential to drop this in play as a 10/10 or even a 20/20 and even come back later in the game as a recurring finisher. Pauper gets a Lhurgoyf!
Happy brewing with Guilds of Ravnica, Pauper fans!
Keep having fun out there,
Rev. David Wright