It's time for another Pauper set review! Core Set 2021 has been fully previewed and with it comes a whole host of new commons for the Pauper format. I'm going to be taking a look at some of the better cards from the set and talking about how they may or may not have a place in the format. I think Core Set 2021 actually has a lot of really powerful tools while also not having anything particularly earth shattering. Let's dive right in and check out all these sweet new cards!
Pauper has a Reclamation Sage! ... Sort of. As far as I can tell by some quick searches on Scryfall, there aren't any commons with that say "when this enters the battlefield, destroy target artifact or enchantment." Kor Sanctifiers is probably the closest to this card and only really sees play in Boros Monarch sometimes since you can pick it up and replay it. While that card is probably better in Boros Monarch than the Mutt, its kicker cost prevents it from being flickered, meaning the Mutt might show up in some the various White aligned flicker lists out there.
This card isn't crazy exciting but it is noteworthy that we've never seen an outright 1/3 for before in Pauper (you don't count Dragon's Eye Sentry). We've seen cards that can get bigger under certain conditions but one mana creatures at their base are only a 1/1 or 1/2 at best. That means this is another neat contender for slots in various White Weenie builds since it can play defense as well as attack. That said, those decks might want to try going with something a little more aggressive than this, but it's still a neat little card that's worth mentioning all the same.
White's had this effect before, but never at instant speed. The closest to this is Take Vengeance from Core Set 2019 with the other two cards that have the effect costing three mana. I honestly thought this was a functional reprint of Take Vengeance at first until I noticed that little detail. We've had this in Black for a while with Murderous Impulse, but that's Black, the color with an endless suite of removal spells. This puts Swift Response in a great spot for being some of the best instant speed removal the format has to offer in White. I'd expect this to see play in lists going forward, though in a somewhat niche capacity given White primarily shows up in the format alongside the colors that have really good removal as is.
Defensive creature that also buffs your attacks? Seems pretty solid to me! Failing the Bolt test and costing three mana makes it a bit of a tall ask, but the effect is fairly reasonable at the same time. I do have to give it a slight flavor fail for having aggressive looking barricades in the artwork and no attack.
An actual fixed Accumulated Knowledge! This one's clearly quite good and will no doubt see a bunch of play. The question is just how much? The answer is that it'll probably meet halfway with the original Accumulated Knowledge. There are a lot of players out there who enjoy the thrill of drawing seven or even eight cards off an AK mirror. Many also recognize, however, that they are also giving their opponents an opportunity to do the same exact thing and as such would prefer the one-sided aspect of Frantic Inventory. As such, it's going to come down largely to personal preference of which line of thought you subscribe to, but do expect to see both of these swapping for one another in the same slots.
There's also a small bit of discussion around whether or not it's right to play them together and play basically 8 AKs. I feel like a lot of the Blue decks would still much rather cantrip off of the likes of Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm more than these. Accumulated Knowledge largely acted as a stand-in once Gush exited the format and that's it, so going in super deep on the effect doesn't seem great. The one kind of deck that does stand to possibly benefit from this would be the Jace's Erasure lists, since it gives more opportunities for massive milling.
All right, let's talk this card. I saw a lot of big hype from people assuming it's going to be played in Delver and Faeries lists because of the fliers clause. I'm here to tell you that it's probably not all that. If you don't have a flier on the board, this is a bad Force Spike - a card that only sometimes shows up in Delver lists. The other side is a slightly better Mana Leak, which already sees basically no play. Decks right now have already been maxing out on their counter suites with Counterspell and Deprive along with Spellstutter Sprite. I just can't see this making it anywhere with this.
Strictly better Wind Drakes are always worth talking about! Well, okay, this one maybe not as much for Pauper. Aven Wind Mage does almost the same thing in the format. That one's not full prowess like this, but in the context of Pauper it might as well be. Still, we haven't really seen a well costed flier with prowess yet, so this might end up having its uses somewhere somehow.
Combat tricks aren't that exciting a lot of the time, but this helping your creature survive a block while also powering down another creature is neat for such a low cost. It's not incredible by any stretch, but it's still a solid little effect that's worth adding to Blue's toolbox.
My first thought for this was Bogles, but as others were quick to point out, Cartouche of Knowledge exists and that doesn't see play. This does grant card selection thanks to the extra loot, though, and Bogles has the capability to effectively casting three mana spells. Ultimately I don't think it's worth playing this, but it's yet another reasonable card available to the archetype.
Much like Rookie Mistake, this one is mostly worth mentioning because it's not quite something we've seen before. We've seen cards that give deathtouch (which have seen play, I might add) and ones that give lifelink, as well as pumps for both, in Black before. We've never seen one that gave you the choice of which one you want to grant. This will be a super niche card you'll see once in a blue moon.
Zombies sometimes struggles to get its damage through, which is one reason it hasn't performed the best very often. This is a card that can help while having a relevant creature type in the process. Also might not be a bad inclusion for decks that sacrifice a lot, like Golgari Aristocrats. It especially helps against matchups where games stonewall hard. This could be thanks to lots of blockers or Fog effects, but if you're sacrificing already, this can help you get through damage out of the sideboard.
It was pointed out to me that you can ditch a creature with dredge and then immediately dredge that card in place of the draw. It seems worth mentioning this card for that alone but in general I don't think it's particularly notable.
Now this is some spice. Those stats are really big for your typical common creature and that effect is really good too. This might be another reasonable option for the reanimator decks, which, speaking of...
Black has another reanimation spell in Pauper!! This is something Pauper players have wanted for a long time since Resurrection and Breath of Life/False Defeat weren't quite cutting it. This is a great, if slow, option to have for the various reanimator lists in the format. Exhume is almost always going to be better at two mana over five, but at least there's a backup to help give a little redundancy without getting greedy with the mana base. Expect to see this one whenever the Rakdos Reanimator lists rear their heads.
Village Rites is one hell of a card. The best kind of card we had like this until now was Altar's Reap. One mana is a world of difference compared to two mana. yYou can use it to sacrifice a creature that's about to get killed by an opponent and draw some cards out of it. You can also use it to just sacrifice stuff in your typical Aristocrats strategies and refill your hand. This one is amazing, but it needs a good home. I can't imagine it'll be too difficult to find one, though.
It's been a long time since we saw Izzet Pieces show up in the meta anywhere, but that deck won via the spell Flurry of Horns. This seems potentially better, as it both costs less and your creatures can get even bigger than the minotaurs Flurry gives you.
This feels like a very unique effect for Red and might be some interesting space to explore as far as deck-building goes. On its own, it's not that great, but give it some tokens to chomp on as well as a Falkenrath Noble and you might just have a stew brewing.
Storm Caller looks kind of unexciting, but from what I can tell, there aren't many creatures that outright deal two damage to a player when they enter the battlefield. Ghitu Slinger might be the only one, and that one's pretty rough thanks to echo. Three mana is a big ask in a lot of the Red aggro decks of the format, especially when you have cards like Keldon Marauders and Orcish Hellraiser, but this is still some great value in one neatly wrapped package.
Even Stompy doesn't always get its creatures up to four power, but a 3/3 for two mana is never not going to be eye-catching. It might be at the very least worth testing because even if you can only give it one small buff - Rancor, Hunger of the Howlpack, whatever - then it lets itself attack. That's not super hard to do. This is going to be one of those ones to watch, but understand that it might not go anywhere.
Let's get this out of the way now: unless you're playing a Mono-Green build, this card isn't going to make the cut for Elves. It has a lot going for it in that Elvish Visionary was always close to playable in those builds, but always felt extremely mediocre. This does cost one more mana, but it both passes the Electrickery test and can do other things by generating you mana. As such, it does feel good, but is too costly a card for the Distant Melody builds. Your higher CMC slots are much more clogged up there and it's likely not good enough to take out a, say, Timberwatch Elf or Lys Alana Huntmaster. In Mono-Green builds where this can slot in where you would've otherwise had Sylvan Ranger? Yeah that seems good.
It's also noteworthy that this is basically Phyrexian Rager + mode, as a lot of people were quick to note. Context matters a lot, though, and Rager is one of Black's better value creatures. Green decks often don't feel like they really need this kind of card, at least in Pauper. It is possible this finds a home in a brew with multiple colors as opposed to something just Mono-Green, but I wouldn't expect to see if very often anytime soon.
I had to give this one some thought as to whether or not it was worth including on this list. Mass trample doesn't show up too much but has been known to from time to time. The closest card to this is Crowned Ceratok, a downshift from Iconic Masters that has never seen any kind of play. I do think, however, that Pridemalkin actually giving a creature a counter and then in turn giving it trample is notable enough to give it a mention here.
Green has no shortage of good flier removal, but I'm sure some people are going to look at this and think they should try jamming it. Instead, can I offer you a nice Scattershot Archer or Aerial Volley in these trying times?
All right, I'm going to bring a hot take to the table here: Track Down is better than Winding Way for Mono-Green Elves. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're all thinking. Why on earth would anyone want to play Track Down - a bad Adventurous Impulse - over a potential draw four like Winding Way? That's a sentiment I've heard a lot since the card dropped. Let's start from the top.
This card is a world of difference from Adventurous Impulse, even though it looks quite similar. What happens when you cast Adventurous Impulse, though, is that you look at the top three cards, reveal a card if you can, and put all the remaining cards on the bottom of your library. This, however, is an actual scry 3. That means you get to select what goes on top and what goes on the bottom in whatever order you want. If you don't want any of the cards, you even get a fourth look after you bottom them. It should be also noted here that we've only ever seen four Green commons with scry on them (Ferocious Charge, Inspire Awe, Llanowar Empath, and Omen of the Hunt) and they're not great. This just feels like an entirely different animal.
The other thing that is important here is context. Pauper Elves is a fragile deck and relies heavily on its sideboard cards after Game 1. You need things like Spidersilk Armor, Magnify, or Wrap in Vigor to deal with the format's plethora of cheap board wipes. While the Distant Melody builds can draw into this with the namesake, Mono-Green builds have always fumbled due to the limitations of Lead the Stampede and Winding Way. It ultimately led to players trying out things like Caustic Caterpillar over Gleeful Sabotage and Nylea's Disciple over Weather the Storm. They're just not comparable.
Winding Way makes this whole situation even worse because it can inadvertently toss your sideboard cards into your graveyard with no way to retrieve them. Lead the Stampede merely puts them to the bottom of your deck. That means you can get them back with a Sylvan Ranger shuffle or else just drawing into them if a game goes long enough. Track Down is better at this because it can actually set you up to draw your sideboard cards the following turn while still finding you a creature that's worthwhile.
It's also important to note the key word "potential" in the opening paragraph where I mentioned Winding Way being a potential draw four. Elves' biggest drawback isn't just its weakness to board wipes, but rather variance. I've had too many times to count where I've drawn exactly zero cards off of a Lead the Stampede or Winding Way. You have to understand that that's a very real possibility and that more often than not you're only hitting two creatures off of either one. It's important to remember as well that this variance actually worsens post-board as you usually take creatures out in favor of sideboard cards. As such, Track Down sort of cleans up that variance and, as mentioned before, can get you more than just creatures in the process.
So yeah, ultimately in the context of just Mono-Green builds of Pauper Elves, I think this is better than Winding Way. I don't necessarily think the same of decks like Slivers which rely more heavily on creature sideboards or sideboard cards with flashback like Prismatic Strands. It's possible this card shows up in other decks, but it's honestly a bit unprecedented in Pauper outside of something like Blue, so I'm very interested to see where it lands long term. Make no mistake, though: this one is very playable.
Last but not least we have this adorable little piggy! I wasn't tremendously high on this card at first, but upon doing a search, I can't find any creature at this cost that gains four life and gives you a 2/2. And if you don't need the life, then you can take the aggressive approach instead. No deck currently has a place for it, so I don't think we'll see it anytime soon, but there's some very good flexibility here that's worth keeping an eye on.
And that about wraps it up for this set review! I'm very much looking forward to picking up a bunch of great cards from Core Set 2021 to have in my collection. Even outside of Pauper, there's just a ton of amazing goodies here and I'm itching to get my hands on them. What cards are you most excited to play with from the set?
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