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Core Set 2020 Pauper Set Review


There really aren't any brakes whatsoever on the Magic: the Gathering release hype train. Even with Modern Horizons having just released only a few weeks ago, it's already time to take a look at all the new Pauper goodies that Core Set 2020 has in store for us. The full set dropped much quicker than normal yesterday afternoon, so I've already had a chance to go over all these awesome cards.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of a Core Set, there isn't quite as much to talk about this time around. Not only are there a ton of reprints already legal in the format, but these kinds of sets generally have a much lower power level on average. Despite that, there's still some great things to check out, especially following the statement from Play Design member Andrew Brown mentioning that starting with War of the Spark, commons were starting to come juiced up.

Now before I go into my set review here where I focus on the brand new cards there are a couple things I want to cover. The first are some of the more notable reprints the set has to offer.

Faerie Miscreant

Disenchant got some really sweet new art in this set, adding yet another piece to the many variations you can get for your decks. It's quite honestly the only new piece that's really enticing, but also juicy is the reprint of the gorgeous Negate art from Rivals of Ixalan. This version of Negate was sometimes tough to find foil so having another printing here, as well as the upcoming Promo Pack foil, is very welcome. And I'd be hard pressed to mention welcome foils and not mention the reprint of Faerie Miscreant. Let me just say now: pre-order those foils while you can, because they're going to go fast!

The second thing I want to discuss is that we got downshifts in a Core Set! I know this has happened before - Silverback Ancient quickly comes to mind - but I don't think it's happened where a card was brought down to common before. If anything it usually goes the opposite way with commons being reprinted as uncommons! So it's with very open arms that we welcome the following cards into the format, even if they're not great cards on their own, because they represent what I hope to be a positive trend moving forward:

Ripscale Predator
Tectonic Rift
Anvilwrought Raptor

With revisiting old cards out of the way, let's dive in and check out some of the brand new cards! With this set, as with most sets I cover, I'll only be looking at the cards that might even have the faintest shot at making it into the format, even if it's a bit of a longshot. You won't see Squire, but you will see some things with niche potential.

Aerial Assault

Vengeance has come a long way, and while we did get Take Vengeance, a still cheaper version of the core effect, in Core Set 2019, this could still have some play. If you use it in decks with lots of fliers, like the Boros or Kitty variants that use Glint Hawk, Kor Skyfisher, and Battle Screech tokens as your main creatures, the life gain can suddenly become relevant. Unfortunately, those decks already have some of the best removal around between Lightning Bolt, Journey to Nowhere, and Galvanic Blast or Skred depending on your build. As such, I don't think this will find a home in those decks, but for more Mono-White lists with lots of fliers, this might just be worth checking out.

Battalion Foot Soldier

I'm only mentioning this card to tell you that you shouldn't look at this card more than once. It's a type-shifted Legion Conquistador and that sees zero play as is. It's neat, but you don't want to be getting Gray Ogres and filling your deck with eight of them. Hard pass here.

Savannah Sage

The life buffer isn't as good as Lone Missionary's, which already makes me wary that this card will be worth playing. That said, this one does have a proper 2 toughness, making it a little more durable. As an aside: it's also a Cleric, a creature type that had a lot of support in the Onslaught block. Being a reasonable 2-drop beater could help fire up an Orzhov build with the likes of Vile Deacon and Profane Prayers, though that may simply be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part.

Squad Captain

Squad Captain costs far too much mana to matter and is dealt with very easily by a number of decks. If White Weenies archetypes want a big creature, this isn't where they should be looking. Martyr's Soul, however, is.

Steadfast Sentry

Generally speaking a 3/2 for three mana isn't all that exciting. Add Vigilance and I pay it a bit more attention. Even more so still when you show me that even when it dies, it beefs up another creature in its wake. This is another card I could see for Weenie decks, as it goes in for a nice chunk of damage, takes out opponents' creatures if they block, and even pumps your other creatures if it dies. If the individual parts don't seem all that exciting, the whole combined package makes me like this one.

Boreal Elemental

Boreal Elemental is a really simple and effective creature. I don't think it'll see much play simply because five mana is a lot, but I do think it's worth noting all the same simply because it's much more difficult than your average creature to get off the board.

Cloudkin Seer

This card looks bananas. The stats alone are pretty solid, if maybe not all that amazing, but what really sells it is that it cantrips upon entering the battlefield. I don't think it'll make the cut for a lot of the current Blue builds around, and certainly not with Mulldrifter in a large number of those decks. However, it's a great all around package that I could very easily see showing up in the format with a little time.

Moat Piranhas

Moat Piranhas is simple as they come. What makes the card worth mentioning is that it's a two-mana 3/3, something we normally don't see and especially not in Blue. It may not be able to attack, but it will almost always provide you with some spectacular defense.

Winged Words

Divination isn't that great, but a two-mana draw two cards with no drawback other than needing to have a creature with Flying? Uh, where do I sign up? This is clearly one of the most playable cards for Pauper in the entire set and is simply a tremendously easy fit in any deck with Delver of Secrets, Faerie Miscreant, Spellstutter Sprite, and Mulldrifter.

Audacious Thief

When Audacious Thief was spoiled and translated from Russian, players couldn't quite agree on how to evaluate this card. On the surface, it looks excellent, and like an easy fit for Mono-Black Control. It is, however, arguably competing for Phyrexian Rager's spot. Most of the time it's going to be better to get that one guaranteed activation than have to get this to attack before you can reap its benefits. There is also the note that this is in Unearth range, meaning it's less concerning if it dies, but the Rager is also in that range, making it a tough call. I certainly expect to see this thief stealing games from time to time, but it remains to be seen if it's truly good enough.

Blood Burglar

Much like Savannah Sage, Blood Burglar is like another card that has some tradeoffs. That card here is Child of Night. While it rarely, if ever, sees play in Pauper, it has been known to make rare appearances within the format. This is just a better, more aggressive version that's a little more durable. Do I think it'll make the cut? Probably not, but having options available to us is a nice option.

Boneclad Necromancer

This card is pretty nice. Five mana gets you five power across two creatures which isn't a terrible rate. There does need to be a creature in a graveyard, but that shouldn't be a problem for you to get creatures into your opponents' yards as you're in Black. That said, this is still likely too expensive, especially when similar cards like Wakedancer exist, but it's a notable one all the same.

Gorging Vulture

Angler Delver decks sure do love their self-mill, and this is a great way to go about it. Not only is it pretty much just a Wind Drake with upside, something that's always welcome in the format, it even can gain you some life in the process. I definitely like this card and could certainly see it making a sizeable splash on the scene. It's quite the far cry from Crow of Dark Tidings, and that's a good thing.

Sorcerer of the Fang

I like this card from a couple fronts. That's largely that it's cheap, blocks low to the ground creatures (and kills 1 toughness critters), and has an effect that goes long. We do have cards like Vampire Neonate and Scholar of Athreos which have similar effects and see no play, though, so I'm not sure this is quite where we want to be, but I think it has some potential in the right kind of control deck.

Unholy Indenture

For the most part, I think this card isn't all that great. We've had Undying Evil in the format for over seven years now and even that card barely sees play. The one cool thing about this card is the way it's worded. If you look closely enough, you might notice that attaching this to an opponent's creature and then killing it will put that creature back onto your side of the field instead of back to theirs. It's an excellent tool to use in either situation, though it still might just be a bit too costly on the whole.

Daggersail Aeronaut

A four mana creature isn't often what aggressive Red decks want, but this card is actually great! It's not uncommon that we see Flying creatures in the color after all, and this could serve as an excellent evasive curve topper. This is especially true in Goblins, though it's more the Red Deck Wins version nowadays, sometimes we still see a true blue Goblins deck and I could see this making an appearance the next time that deck pops up.

Destructive Digger

Destructive Digger is some really neat design space. This card does quite a bit of different things. Once again, a three mana 3/2 isn't always that exciting, but you don't have to make this a purely aggressive creature. If needed, you can turn it into a draw spell where needed. Land flooded, turn them into gas. Too many artifacts? Scrap that trash for treasure. I think it's likely too expensive overall, but there's a lot going on here that it has my attention.

Goblin Bird-Grabber

Once again, Goblins are out here getting Flying! I think the stats are reasonable enough and you can make some good use of giving this evasion regularly where needed. As an additional benefit, this can block fliers, unlike Daggersail Aeronaut, giving this another small edge.

Goblin Smuggler

Goblin Tunneler got beefy! The real draw to this creature is the Haste. Either making a creature unblockable the moment it lands or else just attacking itself, this is pushing some damage through one way or another quite quick. Tunneler wasn't seeing any play at the lower cost, but this having Haste makes it simply that much better.

Pack Mastiff

On its own, Pack Mastiff isn't too exciting. It does, however, go quite a long way when you have multiples. Once the activations are hitting pumping multiple creatures at a time, you can push through some serious damage at a great rate. The downside is needing to get all of those multiple creatures, but when you do, it can be very worth it. Even on its own, it's still a solid mana sink no matter how you look at it.

Reckless Air Strike

Boy this is a greatly versatile sideboard card for a wide swath of decks using Red mana. The flavor is admittedly somewhat odd, but who cares when you're taking out fliers or artifacts? I could see this being especially great against Boros and Tron decks, which use fliers and artifacts alike to push their game plan. Those aren't the only places for this effect, so I totally expect it to show up.

Scorch Spitter

Cards like Pulse Tracker have shown up rarely from time to time, and it's not a stretch to say that this little guy could somewhat reasonably make it into some Red aggressive decks. Being only a 1/1 hurts, as it makes it easier to block and kill, but at the same time pushing damage through and potentially trading creatures in the process seems like a fairly reasonable deal to me.

Wildfire Elemental

Wildfire Elemental is one of those cards that feels like it's close but not quite there. The reason being is that most of the decks that want it by dealing direct damage through spells like, say, Lightning Bolt, kill so quickly the effect is often wasted and worthless. Still, in the right kind of deck (maybe Red Deck Wins?) pushing a team of creatures with extra damage, while also being a big creature itself, is worth looking at.

Brightwood Tracker

Elves keeps getting the sweet new tools, huh? Of all the recent ones compared to this, like Vivien's Grizzly and Winding Way, I like this the least. Its ability can't be used the moment it comes into play, so if it's removed it's gonna feel bad. On the other hand, however, having the selection of four cards is big game should you be able to make it happen. A 2/4 body also makes it durable against most damage-based removal and, of course, it's an Elf. I still don't think it makes the cut, but there's enough going on here I'd consider looking into it.

Ferocious Pup

The best pupper is here! The easiest comparison to this is clearly Nest Invader, and let me assure you: Nest Invader this is not. Not being able to sacrifice the 0/1 for extra benefits, nor getting the bonus of the colorless creature being unaffected by Prismatic Strands should you pump it up, is a big deal. Unlike Nest Invader, however, you can always keep flickering the doggo and make more and more Wolf tokens in the process. And when all is said and done you can even sacrifice it for Aristocrats strategies...if you can stomach sacrificing such a good dog.

Growth Cycle

On its own, this is just a bad Giant Growth, but the moment you cast one with another in your graveyard, it makes your creature outrageously big. I don't think it's worth playing by and large, but I think it's worth noting because it can make your attackers absolutely gigantic.

Healer of the Glade

A 1/2 for one mana is already a solid rate, and gaining three life is great as well. I'd say this is somewhat comparable to Thraben Inspector in a way. While yes, three life isn't exactly comparable to a full card draw, at least you're not paying mana for that life gain in the process.

Leafkin Druid

Leafkin Druid feels like it's close to being there. On its own, it's basically a bad Vine Trellis, but it gets better the more creatures you have on the board. I could see this showing up in a sort of dedicated Green ramp deck that isn't filled to the brim with Elves.

Silverback Shaman

When Silverback Shaman was spoiled, the consensus was pretty clearly that the card was really great and a fine example of power creep yet at the same time not all that playable. Five mana to basically draw a card and get rid of an opponent's removal spell isn't super exciting. What's more, if this gets exiled through the likes of Journey to Nowhere, you don't draw the card. That said, it's very close to being good, and it's a great potential payoff option for a Green ramp kind of build.

So there you have it! There's a slew of new cards in this set and I won't lie: they look pretty solid. There isn't much that excites me for the format in its current state, but what we do have here, as with the last few sets, is a number of cards that look like they could be viable in the right archetype. I'm very excited to see what, if anything, ends up seeing play. What out of Core Set 2020 interests you for the Pauper format?

Also, don't forget that there's a supposedly big Pauper announcement taking place on the Weekly MTG stream over on the Magic Twitch page tomorrow, Thursday, June 27th. Gavin Verhey and Ian Duke will be joining the usual gang to introduce and discuss it at I believe 2pm PST, or 5pm EST. The Professor of Tolarian Community College has stated, "Whatever it is you're imagining, it's bigger than that," so you'll almost certainly want to tune in and check that out. I'll be covering it with a follow-up article to be released on Friday to discuss my thoughts on the announcement. I myself will be hanging out in the chat and I hope to see you there!

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