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Innistrad: Crimson Vow Pauper Review

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Back so soon? It's barely been six weeks since Midnight Hunt released and now Innistrad: Crimson Vow is right around the corner. Filled to the brim with vampiric goodness for several formats, we see a lot less of it in the common slot. Nevertheless, there's still plenty to talk about for the Pauper format and with the full set having been revealed, it's time for yet another set review!

Olivia awaits your arrival, so let's not waste any time and dive right on in to the review:

Apprentice Sharpshooter

Apprentice Sharpshooter

A three-mana 1/4 with reach isn't terribly exciting, but it's not hard for this to get big fast. The problem is that you usually want something like this more as a blocker than an attacker, but it could get up to a 3/6 pretty quickly if you need it to swap roles. Ultimately, though, it's probably not nearly enough for Pauper at that kind of mana cost.

Belligerent Guest

Belligerent Guest

Generally, I don't like to talk about three mana 3/2s - especially when they're in Red - but I think it's worth mentioning because of the Blood tokens when you get an attack to connect with an opponent. Blood tokens basically read like "while this is on the battlefield, all cards in your hand have Cycling 1," so this can help you sift through your deck a bit in the process. The problem is that, well, Red three-mana 3/2s suck in Pauper, so I think this one's probably not gonna cut it.

Binding Geist // Spectral Binding

Binding Geist // Spectral Binding

The three-mana front side to this isn't exciting, but the versatility when combined with the backside makes it a little better. I doubt this is good enough to show up much and would've been better as a two-mana 2/1 or something on the front side but still would've been fringe even at that cost.

Bleed Dry

Bleed Dry

I mostly bring this up because I'm sure people will point to it excitedly for whatever reason. The -13/-13 is a cool novelty and all, but we had Feed the Serpent already in Kaldheim which is just better than this. That already sees zero play and neither will this. Black's removal is too good in Pauper to be paying four mana for this kind of thing.

Bloodcrazed Socialite

Bloodcrazed Socialite

Hey look, a Blood payoff. As is, though, there's simply not enough of the token type to go around, but perhaps in the future there might be. This still costs a lot regardless - probably too much even - but does really bring the beats if you can get it going.

Blood Fountain

Blood Fountain

This is probably one of the best cards for Pauper in the set. Affinity decks have already been leaning for Grixis colors lately, meaning this slips pretty cleanly in there. It may feel a bit like a do-nothing card a lot of the time, but putting two artifacts on your board is no joke in a deck that relies on getting tons of artifacts on the board as cheaply as possible. If the game goes a little long, you can even get creatures back, and in the worst case you get a one-time cycling effect while still bringing down your affinity spell costs. There's a lot going on here that makes it clearly playable and I look forward to seeing it a fair amount.

Blood Petal Celebrant

Blood Petal Celebrant

Two-mana 2/1 first strikers aren't terribly uncommon and don't see much if any play, but the Blood token isn't bad if this gets killed off quickly. I doubt this makes the cut, but if tribal synergies ever really become more of a thing with vampires in the future, then this isn't all that terrible.

Blood Servitor

Blood Servitor

Unlike Blood Fountain, which only costs one mana, I don't particularly care for this. Three mana is a lot and it's a lot easier to get this off the board. Blood Fountain's potency comes from being able to play it early. You don't get that from this.

Bloody Betrayal

Bloody Betrayal

Act of Treason is terribly unexciting and not particularly great in Pauper, but it's still nice to see strictly better variations of it in the format. I think the Blood token isn't nearly enough to warrant an inclusion, though, so this is very skippable.

Ceremonial Knife

Ceremonial Knife

Good or at least interesting equipment is very hard to come by in Pauper, and having a cheap one that makes a ton of Blood tokens is pretty decent. It's not as good as an outright draw effect or something like that, but there's enough going on here that I'm a pretty big fan.

Cradle of Safety

Cradle of Safety

I imagine some people will say this is a good card, but I wanted to remind you all that this is actually a functional reprint of Starlit Mantle, which hasn't seen any play.

Cruel Witness

Cruel Witness

The stats on this card aren't great for Pauper's cheap and efficiently cost creatures, but surveilling whenever you cast a noncreature spell isn't terrible. I don't think this is very playable even given that, but the possibility remains for the deck that wants it.

Dawnhart Disciple

Dawnhart Disciple

We haven't really seen much human tribal synergy in Pauper, so this is kind of neat to see. There's enough of the tribe going around, though, that I could see this finding a home somewhere eventually. The problem is that there isn't anything currently that really wants something like this, but the rate is aggressive enough that I expect it to show up sooner or later.

Daybreak Combatants

Daybreak Combatants

A Gray Ogre with haste is still not great, but pumping another creature when it enters is. A four point life swing right out of the gate is decently solid and could be a reasonable - if boring and somewhat unlikely - top end for Red Deck Wins-style lists.

Desperate Farmer // Depraved Harvester

Desperate Farmer // Depraved Harvester

Speaking of Gray Ogres, a lifelinking one in Black isn't too exciting, but the color loves sacrificing stuff, making this a fairly easy flip in the right deck. In those kind of decks, a 4/3 lifelinker for three mana isn't a terrible deal.

Drogskol Infantry // Drogskol Armaments

Drogskol Infantry // Drogskol Armaments

A 2/2 bear that can later be used as an aura is pretty decent for something like White Weenies. The problem here, however, is that getting the aura costs four mana - far more than your typical White aggro deck is going to have on the battlefield the majority of the time. Stompy is a good indicator of this, where you can often end up stuck on two lands and end up sandbagging a copy of Elephant Guide or similar. This is probably skippable, but is a rock-solid card either way. Worst case, it's a card that can be sacrificed on the front end and used to fuel Bogles from the backside, but I think there's better cards for that.

Fearful Villager // Fearsome Werewolf

Fearful Villager // Fearsome Werewolf

Unlike Desperate Farmer // Depraved Harvester, which is fairly easy to flip over, here you have to satisfy the rules of night and day. That makes this much harder to flip and consistently stay a 4/3, making this far worse - especially in a color that's normally far more aggressive on rate compared to Black.

Fear of Death

Fear of Death

Most of these cheap pseudo-removal effects that lower power never really end up making it in Pauper, but milling yourself in the process isn't bad in decks that like the self-mill. The problem is most of those decks end up utilizing things like delve effects that exile stuff from the graveyard, making this worse in the process, but that might not be too bad when the tradeoff is a Gurmag Angler. Still, I find this to be pretty unexciting and not much better than most of the other spells of a similar vein that have come before it.

Fierce Retribution

Fierce Retribution

This is the cheapest we've seen a "destroy target attacking creature" effect in White, though we have (mostly) better in Swift Response and Piercing Rays. The versatility to upgrade to an outright destroy effect is nice, but not really worth it when the alternate cost is a mighty 6 mana - something most White decks rarely reach. Even the better spells never really see play, so I can't imagine a world where this does either.

Flourishing Hunter

Flourishing Hunter

I don't normally talk about cards like this given how even with Pauper's great ramp spells, large creatures like this rarely ever get touched. However, the life swing this card grants can be quite substantial in a deck with high toughness creatures. Honey Mammoth didn't see a ton of play, but there's certainly more payoff potential here in the right kind of deck. Most of the time, though, you won't find creatures with five or more toughness - and this does nothing on its own - so it's probably not good enough but can be if the stars align correctly.

Gift of Fangs

Gift of Fangs

Vampires aren't really a creature type that show up much, if ever, in Pauper, so this generally acts as simply a Dead Weight. What makes this interesting, however, is that if you're a deck that happens to run a couple vampires in the mix, then this can act as a buff or a removal spell. There have been some fringe aggressive lists running vampires show up now and then, so this could be something reasonable in that sort of list. The moment vampires become meta, however, is the moment where you start to remove this from your list in favor of other cards, as it loses some of its potency in the process.

Gluttonous Guest

Gluttonous Guest

This card isn't really all that great, but if Blood tokens become more prominent, this could possibly end up being at least somewhat playable in the future. I'm not too hopeful on it, though.

Grisly Ritual

Grisly Ritual

Look, I don't care how useful two Blood tokens might be - 6 mana is far too much for a removal spell. The only deck that could possibly make use of this is Tron and even that won't want this.

Gryff Rider

Gryff Rider

This is a really aggressive flier and I like that. It gets bigger and hits harder, making it good for its rate. The problem? The decks that really want something like this either have more aggressive fliers already or are too reliant on swarming with weenies to ever get this pumped up. That makes it far less interesting in the world of Pauper and as a result relegates it to being little more than good Limited fodder.

Heron of Hope

Heron of Hope

Realistically, this is far too expensive to be useful, but Soul Sisters has been known to show up from time to time. This turns those kinds of decks' hefty life gain into a near impenetrable amount, while also acting as a finisher on its own. It's unlikely to make an impact on the format, but there is potential.

Honored Heirloom

Honored Heirloom

Now here's a card I love. Repeated targeted graveyard removal is hard to come by in Pauper, and sticking it on a mana rock that can go in any color deck is really nice. There's tons of decks that want something like this, and as such I think it's likely to become one of the more heavily played cards from this set.

Hungry Ridgewolf

Hungry Ridgewolf

Wolves aren't really played at all as a tribe, but this is a very aggressively cost creature. It's not hard to stick an Undying Wolf and turn this into a 3/2 trampler for two mana. Right now, I don't think the support is quite there for this card, but it has a lot of potential in the future if the right cards come along.

Kessig Flamebreather

Kessig Flamebreather

This is basically a more defensive Firebrand Archer. I think that's pretty good, though, as Firebrand Archer suffered from being simply too damn easy to take out. You could attack with it if your opponent didn't have creatures, but even a simple 1/1 could easily chump it, and literally any kind of removal would take it out. There's a reason it hasn't seen as much play while Thermo-Alchemist has, and I think this being able to play a defensive role or attack into smaller creatures well makes it a little better than the Archer most of the time. I'd expect to see this a decent amount in Burn lists, though it's not likely to be an outright staple for every version of the deck either.

Kindly Ancestor // Ancestor's Embrace

Kindly Ancestor // Ancestor's Embrace

I like this as a fun-of one-of in a very specific deck: versions of Bogles that play Commune with the Gods. Bogles has had several iterations over the years, and some players really like utilizing Commune with the Gods to more efficiently find a hexproof creature or an aura to get one you already have suited up. This is good in that sort of build because you can easily get it into your graveyard and turn it into a lifelink ability enchantment, which is always helpful in the archetype. Sometimes you'll draw it, but it attacks and blocks pretty solidly and acts as good edict fodder if it comes to that. For most other builds, I think it's far too pricey, but in this sort of build it's quite easy to get good value from either side.

Lantern Bearer // Lanterns' Lift

Lantern Bearer // Lanterns' Lift

This falls pretty close to Kindly Ancestor // Ancestor's Embrace, but is a little different as well. Sure Bogles decks might be interested in this in small numbers - provided they're a build that can reliably get Blue mana - but it's not bad even outside of that. Even in something like, say, Faeries this is solid as a creature that later turns into a pump effect. You know what sounds sweet? Getting some attack value in on the front side and later turning a Ninja of the Deep Hours into a 3/3 flier. There's enough going on here that I think it's reasonably playable, but the biggest hurdle surrounding it is where exactly it will end up fitting.

Massive Might

Massive Might

By and large, Giant Growth variants are terribly unexciting. I have seen some rumblings for this in something like Infect, and I kind of agree. With Invigorate banned, the deck has always underperformed and never been quite good enough. A big reason for that has been that while the pump spells have usually been pretty decent, it's hard to get the damage through chump blockers. Stapling trample to a pump spell at this cost is great for that sort of deck, and while I doubt it'll bring the deck back to the top of the heap again, it'll still get a bit more playable as a result.

Militia Rallier

Militia Rallier

I don't particularly care for this at three mana, as untapping a creature doesn't usually do a lot in White Weenie decks that want this. The only thing that comes to mind off-hand would be something like Icatian Javelineers. Despite that, a three-mana 3/3 is uncommon in White for Pauper, so this could be the kind of top end that White Weenie decks have wanted.

Mindleech Ghoul

Mindleech Ghoul

I'm not super hot on this card overall, but there's enough sacrifice decks that are on the verge of getting there that this can be useful. Those decks play in such a way that you can benefit from the sacrifice effect, so sacrificing a creature isn't as bad as it sounds, and taking a card permanently from your opponent's hand is a fair trade-off. I think the majority of sacrifice decks already have somewhat better abilities as is, but this is certainly worth the consideration.

Nature's Embrace

Nature's Embrace

We've seen similar cards to this before, but never really ones that have the versatility to strongly benefit your mana base or a creature to this degree. Most of the decks that have wanted this sort of thing in the past have been combo decks, though, so I doubt this will make it, but I like what's happening here regardless.

Nurturing Presence

Nurturing Presence

In a swarm deck, this can make a creature really big really fast while also making a creature itself. The usual aura-based decks like Bogles and Heroic don't really do the swarming thing, so this is a little underwhelming there - even if it makes a creature - but has the potential to win games in something that relies on, say, Sprout Swarm or Presence of Gond. Yes Presence of Gond decks win by simply going infinite on their own, but this gives you the ability to kill the opponent outright and not risk them shutting you out with fogs or a kill spell and board wipe combo. Right now, I'm not sure this has a home out of the gate, but I think we'll see it find one sooner than later.

Parish-Blade Trainee

Parish-Blade Trainee

There's been a ton of support for +1/+1 counter-focused archetypes lately, and this certainly helps make those that much better. I've seen at least one person trying to make it work in leagues as of late, so we're definitely getting close enough that people are working to make it happen. This is one step closer and is a great card for the format in general, even if it doesn't have a home right now.

Persistent Specimen

Persistent Specimen

Reassembling Skeleton comes to Pauper! We've had similar before in Sanitarium Skeleton, but going to your hand is very different from coming back to the battlefield. Both have their place (Sanitarium Skeleton is better in Tortured Existence, for example), but this is the better one for something like a sacrifice deck. This definitely strikes me as one of the better cards from the set when it comes to Pauper if only because it has clear playability in existing strategies.

Pointed Discussion

Pointed Discussion

Draw two, lose two life for three mana effects have shown up a fair amount in Pauper already, so there's already a fair amount of variety of abilities to choose from as is. Usually, they're played only for their secondary effects (see Read the Bones' scry ability, for example) when the format already has cards like Night's Whisper and Sign In Blood. As such, it's probably not too likely that this one shows up, however I wouldn't put it off outright either. Making a Blood token means you get to effectively cycle something later for one mana as well, which is a pretty handy extra to have around. It's not something every deck will want, but I think it'll be worth playing from time to time.

Ragged Recluse // Odious Witch

Ragged Recluse // Odious Witch

Getting a two mana 3/3 in Black that also drains when it attacks is incredibly aggressive, however the price of needing to discard a card is real. You can make this work in your favor, though, with the help of cycling cards, of which there are many in Pauper. The biggest thing working against this card is how easy it is to get off the board with ample removal, but if the stars align right in the meta, I could see it showing up.

Reckless Impulse

Reckless Impulse

Red card advantage is extremely rare at common. While I'm not sure this has a place just yet outright, I've got no doubt this will show up in the near future somewhere. Pieces doesn't want this when it has plenty of card draw from Blue and Boros has other ways of generating card advantage. Burn probably doesn't want to dilute its gameplan with this either, but if there's anywhere it might show up and be tested out of the gate, it's probably there. See Light Up the Stage in other formats for example, although the difference in mana costs is huge there.

Repository Skaab

Repository Skaab

Given that you have to exploit a creature to get an Archaeomancer effect for a comparable cost, I doubt this will show up, but the higher stats at least warrant a mention. It's at least possible that this shows up somewhere, though it's probably unlikely that it happens.

Rural Recruit

Rural Recruit

This is a lot of power at four mana, but four mana is still way too much to be realistically playable in Pauper - especially in Green.

Sanctify

Sanctify

Another Disenchant variant is always welcome, and I like how this one is cost. The big problem is the sorcery speed aspect, but the three life is a fairly reasonable tradeoff. I'll happily take out a Myr Enforcer and gain a couple points of life against the artifact aggro deck even if I have to do it on my own turn.

Serpentine Ambush

Serpentine Ambush

We've had cards that turn creatures into 4/4s for two mana, but never 5/5. The 4/4 variants have never really seen play, so I'm inclined to believe this one won't either. A 5/5 is a really big swing, though, so I wouldn't be shocked to see it show up either.

Sheltering Boughs

Sheltering Boughs

The only place this would show up is in Bogles and there the 3-drop slot is jam packed as is. Drawing a card is great and all, but not good enough to warrant playing this. Stick to Ancestral Mask and Armadillo Cloak.

Sigarda's Imprisonment

Sigarda's Imprisonment

No matter how good the effects seem to be, Pacifism effects - especially at three mana - never seem to take off. An expensive exile secondary ability to get a one-time cycle is mediocre at best, so this is a pretty easy pass.

Sporeback Wolf

Sporeback Wolf

A two-mana 2/2 that's actually a 2/4 when attacking is actually very good. The only place this could likely show up, though, is Stompy. Longtime readers will know that most sets usually have a card or two that could work in Stompy. The problem with this is that Stompy already has a wealth of options to the point that it's just likely this isn't good enough or what the deck ultimately wants. I think this is better than a lot of options we've seen at two mana, but it's still a little hard to argue for this over something like Nest Invader, Silhana Ledge-Walker, River Boa, or Wild Mongrel - regardless of how aggressively cost this card is.

Steelclad Spirit

Steelclad Spirit

There're enough enchantments in Pauper that I think this can find a home, but right now nothing obvious stands out for it. I'd keep an eye on it for the future, though.

Syphon Essence

Syphon Essence

This would be fine if the format had Planeswalkers - which some day it may, though I hope not personally. As is, though, just stick to Exclude. I doubt you'll need to discard cards or have an artifact on the field over a straight draw if you're playing an effect like this.

Traveling Minister

Traveling Minister

I may be unintentionally misremembering with other formats where Ajani's Pridemate is prevalent, but I'm sure I've seen Soulmender show up rarely from time to time. This is just a better version that can repeatedly buff while gaining life in aggressive White decks, but generally is just too little to warrant in a format like Pauper.

Undying Malice

Undying Malice

If you wanted another Undying Evil sort of effect, here you go.

Unhallowed Phalanx

Unhallowed Phalanx

Five mana for a giant wall that enters tapped is pretty unexciting. That said, it's rare to see a creature with toughness like this in Pauper, so it warrants a mention. I doubt it's likely to happen, but there's always going to be some kind of potential when a high number like that shows up. The five mana is a big hurdle regardless of what you're doing, however.

Unholy Officiant

Unholy Officiant

We haven't really ever seen a one-mana 1/2 with vigilance in White before, and it can get bigger in the late game as well. This doesn't do a ton on its own, but it's definitely the kind of thing I like to see for a White Weenies style of deck.

Vampire's Kiss

Vampire's Kiss

Generally, this isn't the kind of ability I think Pauper wants. Black isn't inclined to be the Burn deck, after all, but I think getting a couple Blood tokens as well makes it a little more enticing. This makes it fine for an aggressive deck as it not only drains, but gives you the ability to cycle away unwanted cards to get to the meat of your strategy. I still think the numbers on the drain are a little too low for what Pauper wants most of the time, but I also wouldn't be shocked to see this show up - especially in a world where Rogue Burn has been able to make appearances.

Vampire Slayer

Vampire Slayer

I'm not expecting this card to show up anytime soon or anything, but if a meta ever gets defined by vampires or changelings, this becomes a decent card. Anywhere else, though, and it's terrible.

Voldaren Epicure

Voldaren Epicure

A ping and a cycle isn't worth just how underwhelmingly weak this is. Easy skip.

Weary Prisoner // Wrathful Jailbreaker

Weary Prisoner // Wrathful Jailbreaker

A four-mana 6/6 is good... if you can get this to stay flipped. The hoops you'll have to jump through to make it worth doing probably aren't worth it, though - especially since it can get chumped and such with ease. Leave it to your small aggressive creatures to swarm the board instead.

Wedding Invitation

Wedding Invitation

We've had tons of two-mana artifacts that cantrip when they enter the battlefield, and virtually all of them have seen play in one way or another. This one is no exception, and is a great way to get a solid finishing blow through to your opponents' face. This ability is different enough that I could see this making its way into a deck that normally wouldn't want the cantripping artifact side but might like it when combined with the unblockable effect, like Bogles or Heroic. That's, of course, in addition to the usual lists. Easily one of the more playable cards in the set.

Wretched Throng

Wretched Throng

This is like a weird reverse Squadron Hawk. That card is great because it lets you pull out a bunch of creatures to fill your hand with discard fodder, cheap critters, and good ol' deck thinning. This takes a lot more effort and isn't as good at doing some of those things (namely being discarded) but is fine enough to be worth consideration.


And that wraps up another Pauper set review! Despite being a lower powered set for a lot of formats, there's still plenty of useful tools to offer for the land of commons. None of these cards are particularly poised to break the meta, but there's a ton of excellent role players in the mix. I look forward to seeing what these cards do in a post-Chatterstorm world, and am excited to see what new lists come out over the coming months. It'll be a few months until my next review with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty but I can't wait to see what that one has to offer as well! For now, we'll just have to see what these cards do for the format!

What commons from Crimson Vow are you most excited to play with?

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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