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Zendikar Rising Pauper Review

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Wow, is it already time for yet another Pauper set review? You'd better believe it is! Today we're talking about Zendikar Rising, the sweet new set coming out next week. But that's in paper, and odds are solid if you're looking to play competitive Magic you're playing on Magic Online. Zendikar Rising releases there tomorrow with some rares landing as early as today thanks to treasure chests. As such, we're going to look through tons of the sweet new commons the set has to offer and see what new goodies await the Pauper format.

We've got a lot of ground to cover so let's jump right in!

A Note On Party

Ardent Electromancer
Grotag Bug-Catcher
Practiced Tactics

Before I dive deep into the world of Pauper, I want to touch on the Party mechanic. There are a ton of new cards entering the format with this mechanic and at first glance, they might not look so spectacular as it can be difficult to assemble a full party. While that's true, it's important to keep in mind that next summer will bring with it the Magic set of Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. This means that not only is party likely to reappear, but that it will also likely be getting a lot more support in the coming sets.

This is actually very notable for Pauper as a lot of this support actually is likely to show up in the common slot to help smooth out draft environments and the like. As such, some of the cards that may not seem great now might get a nice bump in the coming months. I'm not too hopeful myself, but there's enough new tools as is in Zendikar Rising that I'm not going to discount our chances. I'll be talking about a small handful of party cards that might be reasonable without these later additions, but all cards with the mechanic should be kept in brewers' minds going into 2021.

Adventure Awaits

Adventure Awaits

Remember my huge rant on Track Down in my Core 2021 review? Well you're not going to get the same thing here, but we're definitely touching on some similar space. No doubt there will be plenty of people saying this is just a worse Adventurous Impulse - especially since it doesn't find a land and costs two mana. Instead it goes five deep to find the creature you want, and if you unfortunately brick - as you can off of a Winding Way or Lead the Stampede - you simply draw a card. The insurance is nice, but at the end of the day I'd rather try to go big or go home with those plays or else use something like the aforementioned Track Down to help smooth out the sideboard draws in the case of Melody-less Elves. It's more variance this way, but it's both a controlled variance and when it hits, it's going to hit a lot harder than this one.

Akoum Hellhound

Akoum Hellhound

Color-shifted Steppe Lynx is no joke, especially when it's shifting into the most aggressive color in the game. It's hard to say exactly where this might find a home, though, since your typical Pauper deck doesn't run very many lands. Certainly not your aggro strategies! The lack of haste compared to some of the other powerhouse cards is also a strike against it, so I ultimately don't think we'll really see this in Burn or Red Deck Wins necessarily. Think how Steppe Lynx never sees play in the aggressive White decks that show up from time to time. It's even worse for Red which is far more aggressive.

That all having been said, with both this and Steppe Lynx together, maybe we could see a new Boros build cropping up at some point. After all, Boros Monarch already picks up and plays a lot of lands, but is usually too slow to be a real aggro list. Maybe a little toying around and brewing could see a new, less midrangy version featuring these two cards together.

Anticognition

Anticognition

This card took me a couple read throughs to understand. My first thought was it's a bad Mana Leak. Then I thought, wait, this is fine early game and better late game where the opponent likely has a lot of cards in their graveyard. Then I re-read it and saw that it only counters a creature and it suddenly feels a bit like a worse Remove Soul or Exclude. Still, it's a unique enough space that there may be a home for it, but I wouldn't bet money on it being a major contender or anything like that - especially when our format has some of the best countermagic in the game.

Broken Wings

Broken Wings

I think Broken Wings costs one too much mana to be actually relevant in Pauper, but this is some major flexibility on a common. We've been seeing more and more of this lately (Return to Nature quickly comes to mind) so I think it's at least worth mentioning even if it's highly unlikely to actually see play.

Bubble Snare

Bubble Snare

Capture Sphere and the like aren't good cards. It's arguable that Pauper has much better cards than this like Curse of Chains or Narcolepsy that keep creatures tapped down forever. I like this one, though, because it gives you choice in what you want to do. If you want to just keep a tapped creature tapped, then you can cast it for one mana. If you do want to tap it, though, you can pay the extra. The flexibility here is nice and it makes me like these effects more than I would if it was just one or the other. I don't think it'll be worth this card seeing actual tournament play or anything, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it at some point or another.

Cleansing Wildfire

Cleansing Wildfire

A cheaper instant-speed Geomancer's Gambit is seriously awesome, but if your first thought was Tron, then I've got some sad news for you. Unfortunately this doesn't do much there, as they have a lot of ways to get around that. Tron doesn't typically run a lot of basics, so this can be a tempo play early sometimes, but they can also play cards like Crop Rotation or Ghostly Flicker to stop your shenanigans. That's not to discount their straight countermagic or using a Pulse of Murasa to get their land back if you do fully blow it up. At that point you'll have slowed them down a little and cantripped, but not much else.

There is still a lot of stuff that can be done with this, though. I'd love to have this against Boros decks or Pestilence and hit some bounce lands for a massive tempo swing. They'll get their land, sure, but it's still effectively put them down a land drop. Also, because these decks run Colorless lands like Radiant Fountain, there's a non-zero chance that you'll also shut them off of a color. Even outside of these, using a two mana Stone Rain on a Bogles opponent's Forest with a ton of Auras on it sounds great.

I definitely like this one a lot and expect to see it popping up, especially with the amount of playability it can provide. Just don't fool yourself into thinking it's particularly effective against Tron. It's fine, but they'll easily beat it back.

Cliffhaven Kitesail

Cliffhaven Kitesail

I know I've seen Cobbled Wings in the distant past and this is generally just better in every regard. Yes, the equip cost is higher, but I think the big value is being able to attach it right when it enters the battlefield. I'm not totally sure what deck might want this, but this seems like a sweet effect. It's like a colorless one mana aura that sticks around if/when the creature it's attached to dies. It's dull and a bit boring, but it's efficient and cheap for a reasonable ability and I like that. Would not be too surprised to see this in certain metas, though probably not now while faeries continue to be all over.

Dauntless Unity

Dauntless Unity

You can get mass pump spells cheaper with the likes of Charge, but the flexibility to go bigger if you want seems appealing here. It's not spectacular, but is another nice tool worth mentioning for those looking for effects like these.

Deadly Alliance

Deadly Alliance

As I noted at the top with party, this is one of those cards that's hard to gauge right now. If you can assemble a full party, this is cheaper than Cast Down which has made as big a splash as everyone expected when it arrived in Double Masters. Problem is, it's pretty tough to hit that full party. Still, even having two or three of the party members (which can be fulfilled with a Spellstutter Sprite and Faerie Miscreant I might add) it's not a terrible rate. I think that if this isn't some degree of playable when the set releases and people get brewing, it will be in time. Players just need to pay a bit more attention to the class creature types rather than the usual tribal aspects, and that normally goes far less noticed.

Deliberate

Deliberate

Wizards has been really pushing the idea of a two mana Preordain effect, huh? First we got Scour All Possibilities, then we got Omen of the Sea, and now this. I'm inclined to believe Omen of the Sea is just better than this for the most part, but not strictly so. If you find a list that wants something like Goblin Electromancer over a Nightscape Familiar or Sunscape Familiar, then I guess this is better. Still, more of this kind of effect is always welcome and I'm sure we'll see this in the future from people who want more than four of this effect at instant speed.

Expedition Champion

Expedition Champion

Expedition Champion seems pretty plain, but 4 power for three mana and a solid backside is nothing to scoff at. There's lots of cheap warriors out there - especially in these kinds of aggro decks - that turning on the extra power shouldn't be hard at all. A lot of the decks that prefer this degree of aggression like to be as low to the ground as possible with most cards in the one and two mana slot, so there's hefty competition. The stats are great, though, so I wouldn't be shocked to see it at some point.

Farsight Adept

Farsight Adept

Is that White card draw?! This is definitely a result of Wizards' continued attempts to make White better and give it more of an identity, including ways to reliably draw cards. The stats here are reasonable, but giving your opponent a whole card as well is a very real drawback. If you can break the symmetry somehow, this card seems great, but I don't see that being likely.

Feed the Swarm

Feed the Swarm

HOLD THE PHONE! Black has targeted enchantment removal now?! That's right! Wizards confirmed that Black is now going to be getting enchantment removal third after Green and White. This is a marked change in color pie philosophy that had been experimented a bit with Pharika's Libation in Theros Beyond Death. Now that we have targeted removal, I certainly expect this to show up in some sideboards going forward. Black decks already fair quite well against decks like Bogles and Heroic thanks to cards like Chainer's Edict, but there's certainly other cards this can hit as well. Hitting an opposing Pestilence seems solid, as does getting rid of a pesky Elves player's Spidersilk Armor that's preventing you from wiping the board. It's not a perfect card, but it's definitely going to make a pretty firm impact in the format.

Field Research

Field Research

Hey, a Divination that can get better is pretty sweet. The cost probably isn't worth it, but it's still a pretty neat option to give classic control style decks.

Glacial Grasp, Mind Drain, Scale the Heights

Glacial Grasp
Mind Drain
Scale the Heights

Man, there sure are a ton of words on each of these cards. It feels like this was supposed to be a cycle of effect soup cards where a couple of the others just got left by the wayside. That's not too surprising considering the same happened with the Inscriptions at rare, either. These seem much better than some of the similar effect soup cards we've gotten before (Vicious Rumors very swiftly comes to mind here) but they're still probably misses given the power of the Pauper format we know today. There's a lot going on with each of them, though, so I'm not counting them fully out just yet.

Gnarlid Colony

Gnarlid Colony

This is the cheapest version of this effect we've seen yet and being on a straight up 2/2 for two mana isn't that bad at all. It's not hard to get counters on creatures, but I definitely wouldn't rely on the kicker of this one, as in Pauper it's hard to hit that five mana in the sort of aggressive decks that might want this effect. Most of the other kinds of these effects don't see play at all, so I hesitate to say this will, but I think it's important to note that this is arguably the best of these effects we have so far.

Joraga Visionary

Joraga Visionary

Look, I may have talked about how Llanowar Visionary was probably way better than it looked (and I still believe that) but this just sucks. It's too costly and doesn't do anything besides draw the card and have big-ish stats. Elves doesn't care able that very much, whereas Llanowar Visionary is cheaper than this and taps for mana. Hard pass here.

Kazandu Nectarpot

Kazandu Nectarpot

Jaddi Offshoot has seen play in the past, so it's not a huge stretch to think this could. 1 mana is a big difference to two mana, though, and I think that hurts its chances over the plant we've come to love over the last few years.

Malakir Blood-Priest, Marauding Blight-Priest

Malakir Blood-Priest
Marauding Blight-Priest

The best thing about party for me? The promise of new cleric cards! Back in the days when the Onslaught block was in Standard, elves weren't my only love. Give me a nice Vile Deacon and Profane Prayers deck and I'll be happy all day, every day! While the classic Deacon probably isn't playable as it once was, Profane Prayers certainly is. There's plenty of solid life draining and stonewalling clerics throughout the years that it's always felt sort of on the cusp of getting there but not really. With these two cards, it's exciting to see some pieces that work solidly with that sort of strategy.

I especially like Marauding Blight-Priest because of how well it works with other decks in the format. It provides a solid way to kill opponents with a Soul Sisters kind of strategy as well as being another win-con alongside God-Pharaoh's Faithful in Familiars lists. I'd expect that one to show up plenty, but if an actual clerics deck pops up at some point, Malakir Blood-Priest seems like a solid aggressive card for it.

Molten Blast

Molten Blast

These effects are both pretty bad on rate, but the modal flexibility here makes it a little better. Three mana is still a massive ask, though, and I can't help but wonder if this couldn't have been two mana. The Pauper players that play the Legacy oriented version might not care for this, but if you're someone who plays on Arena, then this is probably going to be solid for Historic Pauper - especially when Kaladesh Remastered lands.

Prowling Felidar, Territorial Scythecat

Prowling Felidar
Territorial Scythecat

Getting +1/+1 counters onto an otherwise French vanilla creature isn't the worst thing in the world at all. While I do think Prowling Felidar is a bit too overcost for Pauper, Territorial Scythecat looks really nice - especially if you have Quirion Ranger to repeatedly bounce back Forests to replay them. It's hard to justify a creature that's three mana and dies to every form of removal imaginable, but the rate is good and it's a very big payoff if it sticks around. Worth trying out at the very least, even if it likely doesn't make the final cut.

Roil Eruption

Roil Eruption

Once again, I like this because of the flexibility it provides, but in this case I don't think it's enough. Volcanic Hammer is not what Pauper wants - as seen by the fact that the card has been hopelessly outclassed and never sees play already. What's more, while I've seen Burn frequently get flooded, I never see them get so flooded they'd be able to cast this with its kicker cost. What's more, if you reach the point in the game where you have seven lands in Burn, you've probably just lost anyways. Don't play this card.

Sea Gate Banneret

Sea Gate Banneret

This is largely a strictly better Cliffside Lookout (we really don't care about Ally in Pauper) and given how that's shown up infrequently in the past, I'd say this has a non-zero chance of showing up once in a blue moon.

Spare Supplies

Spare Supplies

Spare Supplies fills yet another slot in the repertoire of common two mana artifacts that draw you a card when they enter the battlefield. This one has the extra utility of being able to sacrifice it for an extra card, but not on the same turn you play it. I'm not sure this is better than an Alchemist's Vial or a Golden Egg, which can stall aggressive decks in a pinch, but it's definitely a powerful new tool. Players of Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk kinds of strategies should definitely test and see how it works for them compared to the others.

Spitfire Lagac

Spitfire Lagac

I really, really like the Lagac, but I also don't think it's ever going to get remotely enough damage through for four mana thanks to the high class of removal the Pauper format features.

Stonework Packbeast

Stonework Packbeast

This kind of card has shown up before in the likes of Prismite, which has been used sometimes in combo lists to help smooth out colors. This does the same, but also acts as a wildcard for your party. In case you didn't know, no - neither this nor changeling counts for each creature type in a party, but rather only one. It's still solid and I'd expect to see this from time to time, if as a rarity in a brew at a local shop.

Strength of Solidarity

Strength of Solidarity

This card has a very real possibility of putting a ton of counters onto creatures you control. Stompy does play warriors in Nettle Sentinel and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and has rogues in the form of Silhana Ledgewalker. If a decent Green cleric or wizard were to come about the rate gets big here. Even without it, a permanent +2/+2 for one mana isn't terrible, though in many situations the instant speed Hunger of the Howlpack the deck already runs is generally better. I don't think this will show up any point too soon, but I'd strongly recommend keeping an eye on this one.

Tajuru Blightblade

Tajuru Blightblade

I got a number of messages and saw plenty of discussion on this card when it was previewed. It's harder to gauge than you might think at first glance. On one hand we've had one mana Green deathtouchers before (see Sedge Scorpion and Moss Viper), but on the other hand they weren't elves. What's more, we actually have seen a deathtouch elf see play before in the form of Thornweald Archer. That one is a 2/1 with reach as well as deathtouch for two mana. It was actually less used for blocking fliers (though that certainly happened) and was more used for the likes of pinging with Viridian Longbow. That makes me think there is some possibility of play with this card for metas that need to deal more frequently with larger creatures. It actually outright kills bogles that don't have first strike too, which is nice. Is the elf type worth it? Maybe, but certainly not very often.

Tuktuk Rubblefort

Tuktuk Rubblefort

I'm going to go on record and say that this is probably the best card for Pauper as we know it right now. Yes, Cleansing Wildfire will likely see play but not how people are expecting it to. This one slots pretty cleanly into Wonderwalls, which already plays Crashing Drawbridge. The deck doesn't inherently use lands that tap for Red mana, but there's enough ways to get it with the likes of Orochi Leafcaller, Saruli Caretaker, and Axebane Guardian that casting this seems quite easy. There's a chance the Drawbridge might be better since it's both currently a four-of and is colorless so it's less reliant on you having other cards, but the power on the Rubblefort can't be denied. If the Red mana proves too restrictive, I could see a split so as to not always run the risk of choking on mana.

The place I definitely expect to see this card played, though, is in Elves. I personally only want this as a one-of, but one is enough. Obviously, we're casting this with Birchlore Rangers, so we do need to have that on hand, but we usually should if we're casting our Distant Melodies. And that's where this card really shines! Usually when an Elves player casts Distant Melody and casts their whole deck, they're left to stuck waiting a full turn to be able to actually win. This is because they've usually tapped their few creatures that could normally attack and any copies of Timberwatch Elf likely just hit the board.

The beauty of the Rubblefort is that it turns on all of your creatures, making them ready to go in for the kill. It also turns on the abilities of the aforementioned Timberwatch Elf as well as Priest of Titania (and other mana dorks), Wellwisher, and Nettle Sentinel for Viridian Longbow machine gun victories. It's a powerhouse that enables Elves to win on the spot in ways Crashing Drawbridge never really managed to do, and that's awesome. What's more, it's also just great at any point in the game if you can cast it with Birchlore Rangers, as turning on any of the above cards is great at any time and not just when you're looking to win the game.

Of all the cards I've seen in this set, this is the biggest winner and has very clear main deck playability that most of the others here wish they had. I'm very excited to play with this one!

Utility Knife

The stats here aren't really notable, but I like that it auto-equips when it comes into play. This competes pretty fiercely with Flayer Husk, though, so I don't think it'll end up playing. Going onto the creature you want instead of onto a 0/0 is different enough that I think it's worth considering, however.


And there you have it! My thoughts on Zendikar Rising for Pauper in a nutshell! There's a lot of neat cards here and while I think only a few will see for sure immediate play, I think there's a number of cards here that everyone should have their eye on as we continue going through the year. What cards are you excited to play with from this set?

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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