Commander Legends is coming in just over a week! There're tons of sweet cards coming to beef up your favorite Commander deck or even build a new one. If nothing else, you can even have a good time drafting it, if not in person then on Magic Online! With the increased power level due to the multiplayer shenaniganry of Commander-style gameplay, we also see a host of new commons entering Pauper for the first time ever. This includes both several downshifts and plenty of all new cards.
There's lots to talk about so let's just jump right on in and see what's hot and what's not!
Reprints: Palace Sentinels, Preordain, Cuombajj Witches, Mulldrifter, Thorn of the Black Rose, Fyndhorn Elves
Before I dive on into the meat of the set and the new cards that Commander Legends is introducing to Pauper, I wanted to take a brief moment to mention the reprints in the set. There're tons of great cards here that have been steadily climbing in price, have gotten more difficult to find, or else are difficult to find black border versions of. What's more, a handful of these also got that sweet extended art treatment in collector boosters for those looking to bling out their decks a little more.
I think the biggest cards worth mentioning here are clearly Palace Sentinels and Thorn of the Black Rose. While they haven't been too pricey or difficult to track down in paper, they've been continuously some of the most expensive commons Magic Online. This was due to their only really being available in treasure chests for brief periods (as well as an additional Cube prize in the case of Thorn). Having them here in this set will tank their price, making them far more affordable and no doubt bring the cost of more than a few decks down considerably.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we're going to tackle two groups of cards brought into Pauper for the first time: the new monarch cards and the diamonds.
Monarch cards (Azure Fleet Admiral, Crimson Fleet Commodore, Fall From Favor, Staunch Throneguard)
The monarch cards are, frankly, nothing really new. They're providing new and more efficient ways for Red and Blue to have access to the monarch and boy is it going to have an effect on the format. It's hard to overstate how much of an impact the mechanic has had on Pauper since Palace Sentinels and Thorn of the Black Rose landed on Magic Online. It's hard to say exactly where most of these slot - except for the obvious Staunch Throneguard for Tron - but there's no doubt these will show up. In all likelihood, it will probably spawn a few new archetypes but it's difficult to predict how those will look as of right now. Expect to see every one of these cards to make a splash in the format in the coming weeks one way or another.
As an additional note, I'd like to bring attention to the fact that Gavin Verhey - who was the lead designer for the set - noted that they're very aware of the impact these cards and others will have on the format. Many of these cards had to be included for the Limited environment, which takes priority over Pauper given it has a more niche appeal compared to Limited. They are going to be monitoring the format very closely in the weeks following the release of Commander Legends so don't be surprised if we see bans sooner than later.
Diamonds (Charcoal Diamond, Fire Diamond, Marble Diamond, Moss Diamond, Sky Diamond)
I mostly put these cards together for simplicity's sake, because while they're very cool and interesting additions to Pauper, they're not that great for the format. For Cubes and Pauper Commander, I certainly expect them to see a ton of play. They're great downshifts that will be used at many a casual table. For actual competitive gameplay, however, I'd generally speaking much rather have a signet. If these didn't come into play tapped, we'd be having a different conversation, but as is I can't say I'm much of a fan.
Similar to the above two sets of cards, I almost put together each of the cascade cards because at the end of the day I feel fairly similar with regards to each of them. I didn't, however, as I felt there was still enough nuance to talk about why a deck wants or doesn't want each card for a certain style of deck. In general, the issue is that the cost is so high, there's no way to really control what you're getting and it could make the card actually a bad rate or else give you something at a bad time (countermagic, for example).
Of all the cards with cascade, I do think Annoyed Altisaur has some of the best potential to see actual play. The stats are actually quite reasonable for a creature of this size, and while they still read like they're not enough for Pauper, there's likely a home for it in Mono-Green Land Destruction or Dreadmaw Stompy. The latter is much more of a meme than anything, but both tend to spit out tons of lands and the Land Destruction deck controls the board to get you to the point where this is castable. Once you do cast it, there's actually a pretty solid shot at hitting an impactful spell on top of dropping a big dinosaur onto the battlefield.
Both of those decks are much lower on the tier list for the format and it's metagame, however, with Dreadmaw Stompy basically a meme that did okay in one or two online events. I wouldn't expect to see this too often, but it's very much a reasonable top end in the right deck.
Anointer of Valor
Okay, so hear me out on this one. This card on the surface isn't great at all. It's too expensive and doesn't really do much - if anything - when it hits the field. However, if Tron survives another ban with the actual Tron pieces intact while losing the Flicker strategy many in the format love to hate, there may arise more aggressive or midrangey builds again. This comes down pretty easily with Tron mana and can give lots of buffs to your creatures as well with that same kind of mana. It's definitely a stretch, but I see a non-zero chance of this happening, so it's at least worth the slightest of mentions. Beyond that, it's just not a good card and you should skip it.
Armory of Iroas
This one's for Pauper Commander and Cubes, really. The only deck that really wants something like this might be Bogles to beef up your untouchable creatures. The problem? Forced Adaptation has existed for roughly seven years and sees no play. Given that it basically does the same thing and there's enchantment synergies there, I wouldn't bet on this one being played.
That said, though, I will mention that it feels like Wizards is giving - as I'll come back to in a minute - equipment strategies more support in the format. While unlikely, there is a slim possibility this could help for a strategy like that. My guess is there are better equipment than this that it's simply not worth playing, but should be kept in mind if that continues to grow into something real.
This is a strictly better Cho-Manno's Blessing. In fact, Gavin has stated that this originally WAS Cho-Manno's Blessing before it was decided to make it something more original. The issue with CMB is that it only stops itself from falling off if you name White as the color you're giving protection from. Now you can call White with Benevolent Blessing to give your creatures protection without all of your auras falling off. Since you're likely playing this in Mono-White Heroic - which was playing CMB already - this pretty much means you just can't target that creature any further. However, that might be just fine if your creature is already big enough, and if you need a little more oomph there's always Mutagenic Growth.
This is probably the worst and most boring of the Cascade cards. At least the others have some interesting angle that makes them worth discussing. This at 6 mana, however, is everything that aggressive Red decks don't want. Hard pass.
Briarblade Adept, Elvish Doomsayer, Exquisite Huntmaster, Eyeblight Cullers
While not necessarily a cycle, I thought it fitting to still bring up all of these elves together at once. It's by and large to tell you to not play these. I don't really care how much mana Elves is capable of making - these are still far too costly, in an off color, and just don't do enough. Of all of them, Elvish Doomsayer is maybe the most Constructed playable, but it's just a worse Black Cat which already sees no play. Perhaps there's a fresh angle to take with Sacrifice decks and eight of this kind of effect, but I'm not holding my breath.
Champion of the Flame
Remember that bit above where I said equipment decks feel like they're getting more support? Yeah, this is what I'm talking about. Double Masters gave us lots of sweet tools for this strategy with the likes of Golem-Skin Gauntlets, Ancestral Blade, and Kazuul's Toll Collector. I still don't think we're quite there yet, but this is a great step in the right direction. I have to imagine we'll be at a point where this kind of strategy is Pauper viable sooner than later.
When Eyeblight Massacre dropped, there was a groan from just about everyone. Players have wanted another good sweeper for the format and this wasn't exactly what they had in mind. The one deck you wanted to sweep was Elves and this does nothing to it! It doesn't really do much against Stompy, which also plays several Elves.
There were also a number of people who were saying that Elves doesn't want this. The argument is that it doesn't do anything for you against other creature aggro decks, doesn't help against the mirror, and does nothing against Tron, the best deck in the format. While that's mostly true, I think there's some places where this actually is playable. It's true this does nothing against Elves or Stompy (for the most part) but those are your fine-to-good matchups (same with Tron) anyways, so who cares? Run it against Goblins/Red Deck Wins and watch their board shrivel to nothing
My thoughts are that I'd like to bring this in as well against decks like Boros, Faeries, and Mono-Black Control. We frequently have a tough time in these matchups - especially MBC and post-board games vs. all of them - but I think this card helps to pressure them. Most of Boros' creatures outside Kor Skyfisher, Palace Sentinels, and maybe Guardian of the Guildpact die to this. Wipe out all those pesky tokens! MBC loses everything but Cuombajj Witches and Gary, but it still effectively turns off the Witches since an activation means their untimely demise. For Faeries, this kills all but Augur of Bolas as well as Gurmag Angler for the Dimir builds. In each of these, it puts their remaining creatures in a position where blocking usually means the blocking creature dies, meaning you can really put the squeeze on your opponent.
The other thing I heard people saying about this card is it isn't realistic to cast this regularly. While that's also true, it's only true based on how we're building the deck currently. Our only way to cast it is by having a Birchlore Rangers and several creatures, but what if instead we looked to the old card Elves of Deep Shadow? This easily swaps with a one-drop dork or two and even if you only have one on board, a Quirion Ranger gets you to two Black mana easily. The life loss is also mitigated by running cards like Essence Warden and Wellwisher. What's more, many lists already run the card Gruesome Fate, and this would allow that to be cast much more reliably.
I think the card is very much worth testing for Elves - and possibly for some other decks that can find a way to harness it well. But all of those decks might want to look at this next card instead:
Pauper now has a three mana, deal two damage to everything spell. A lot of players have been asking for this in the form of, say, Pyroclasm to give non-Tron decks (and, well, Tron decks) a better chance at fighting back against aggro decks. Instead we got this, which is an instant unlike Pyroclasm, and as such is tutorable with Mystical Teachings.
What this means is that for now, it's going straight into Tron and the Tron players of the format are going to take it and run. There are ways to fight back, though. Countermagic, Wrap in Vigor, odd pieces like Shields of Velis Vel or Prismatic Strands can all help fight back against this powerful new card. Elves is especially going to have a difficult time, because I'm not entirely convinced that we even want Spidersilk Armor going forward - especially since Black decks also just got Feed the Swarm to pick it off into a sweeper.
The face of the format is about to change and Fiery Cannonade is going to be one of the biggest players for a while. If you're not playing it, you'd best be prepared for it.
Filigree Familiar is a really cool downshift because it hits a sweet spot. It has competitive potential, but where it fits isn't immediately obvious - if it fits anywhere at all. A little life here, an extra card there, plus possibly some damage or acting as removal mean there's a lot going on here. If you can find a place to make this package deal work well for you then it's a sweet deal well worth getting in on. If nothing else, Pauper Cubes will probably love this until the end of time.
The more I look at this card, the more I actually like it. The stats are great for a top end ramp deck and it's an Elf to boot, which means a possible go tall strategies for Elves with extra synergy as well. Most creatures you'll run into in the format have only one or 2 power, so this can easily break through for some easy damage. And if it dies, you can get it back out of the graveyard to go in for the kill. I don't think it's going to be a game changer or anything, but I think it's a great tool that will have a home in certain metas. Well worth testing and may be better later on depending on how the meta continues to evolve.
Tortured Existence players rejoice! Back when Ultimate Masters came out, there was a lot of hype about Slum Reaper for its Fleshbag Marauder effect. Problem is, it was pretty expensive and players just wanted good old Fleshbag Marauder! Well it seems WotC heard the call and has given us the ol' Fleshbag for Pauper. This is great for TortEx because it serves as a repeatable removal engine since you can just sac it to its own effect and get it back with the deck's namesake card. I have to imagine we'll see the card in other decks as well eventually, but there's no doubt that it's going to make a splash in TortEx lists when they pop up.
Flood of Recollection
Flood of Recollection is actually a very interesting downshift to talk about because it was probably a last minute switch. You'll notice that the collector's number oddly places it squarely between Brinelin, the Moon Kraken and Confiscate, which doesn't make sense for a card whose name starts with an "F." What most likely happened here is that the card replaced the card Call to Mind at the last second due to having art by controversial artist Terese Nielsen. As a result of this last-minute swamp, we ended up with Flood of Recollection instead as a safe replacement. If we had gotten Call to Mind, I think we'd be having some very interesting discussions about the potential for weird recursion loops and the like. As is, though, given that Flood of Recollection exiles itself, we can't have those discussions and it'll instead be left as a largely unplayed oddity.
Similar to how Boarding Party is everything a Red Aggro deck doesn't want, so too is Forceful Denial not great for decks that want countermagic. The reason being it's safe to say you likely aren't playing Forceful Denial as your only counterspell and cascading into, say, actual Counterspell is just a total feel-bad. The card itself is fine and I like the design - especially for Cubes and Commander and the like - but it's just not what Pauper wants.
Foundry Inspector is a really interesting one. There were a number of people whose minds went right to Affinity, but we've already had this kind of ability in an on-color form for that deck: Etherium Sculptor. That sees very fringe play and at two mana over three I expect it to be better for the player who wants to play that very unusual style of Affinity. If there's ever a deck where this could be played, however, it's an Eggs style of deck. Players have messed around with the archetype for Pauper and haven't ever really gotten it to work well, but with an additional cost reduction creature, perhaps that'll change.
Repulse has existed for nearly twenty years and is far superior to this. Next.
This is another pretty sweet piece of equipment for Pauper. In general, I think it's far too expensive on the front end to matter most of the time. I could, however, see it making an appearance in Elves for players who want a lot of haste but don't want to rely on the slowness of Crashing Drawbridge or the off-color aspect of Tuktuk Rubblefort.
Howling Golem is a really cool downshift for Pauper in that it plays with interesting design space and is something everyone can play. I don't expect this to see much Constructed play, but I definitely think this will be fun for - as with many cards on this list - Cube and Pauper Commander.
Goblin Aristocrats (aka. Sacrifice) is a deck, so there's probably a non-zero chance of this showing up in something like that, but I do think there's generally going to be better options to choose from. The encore ability is a nice little bonus, but I don't really feel I want to pay four mana for what'll largely amount to a one-time treasure token.
Also, let me just take this moment to say that I'm really not a fan of modern goblin design making them look boring, generic, and downright cartoonish in recent years. I hope this changes more going forward.
We got a rare-to-common downshift in this set! Jalum Tome was an uncommon in Antiquities but has been a rare in every release since. Apart from a brief Commander reprint or two, its last real printing was in Seventh Edition nearly twenty years ago, so it's hardly surprising to see it now at common after all these years. The card is actually pretty sweet for Pauper, as it's a reasonably costed artifact that can continually loot and keep your stream of gas going, along with filling your graveyard with relevant spells and abilities. It does compete a bit with Bonder's Ornament, but not running the risk of letting your opponents draw extra cards is a big upside here. I still think we'll see the Ornament more, but it definitely wouldn't shock me to see this classic Tome show up in the format as well.
That one guy on Twitter who constantly begs for more kithkin has finally been thrown a bone! This is a really cool card for a draft format like Commander Legends but less so in a 1v1 format like Pauper. Being able to come back from the grave for extra value at a cheap price may make this show up in some White Weenie builds in the future. That said, I feel like those lists will want to stay generally in the 1-2 CMC range.
There's plenty of other cards that do this effect better and none of them are Pauper playable as is. Skip this and just sleeve up some faeries.
+1/+1 counter decks have been a thing people have tried for a while now. Travel Preparations is a card people have built around in the past, for example. There's also been a lot of support with proliferate in War of the Spark and cards giving trample to creatures that have +1/+1 counters on them. I feel like this won't do more than a lot of the various proliferate effects out there and is comparable to Courage in Crisis, which is one mana cheaper at sorcery speed. Probably not worth playing, but still another tool in the box.
Scion of Ugin is the exact same thing but is generally better by not having the extra baggage of being an artifact. That doesn't see play at all so I expect it to show up exactly nowhere.
Maalfeld Twins, Skaab Goliath
These big zombos are far too slow and won't do much for your games a lot of the time. Just play Gurmag Angler and be happy about it.
The biggest flaw with this card is both how big (read: expensive) it is and how little it actually does for you. It's a cool card and screams Tron - which can easily cast it and has plenty of viable targets - but there's enough things that you don't want to hit that make it somewhat less than ideal to play. Like with many of the other cascade cards, there's just going to be a lot of times where you miss or else hit something that just doesn't do much for where you're at in the game. All you're left with afterwards is just a plain vanilla 7/7. It doesn't even have trample for crying out loud.
Now here's a sweet downshift. This gives the various sacrifice decks in the format plenty of, well, ammo to deal more damage to the opponent or pick off pesky creatures. It costs mana to activate, however, making it less than ideal for many a player of those archetypes. It's still a great card and an excellent choice to downshift, so we'll have to see if it'll actually show up or not. My personal feeling is that we'll see decks run it as a one or two-of from time to time but never more than that.
This card has pretty much the same issues as all of the other cascade spells in the set for Pauper. The decks that want this card (Elves and maybe Tron) either have too many misses or not enough gas to warrant it. Think of it like this: if you cast this and hit a Llanowar Elves, were you really much better off casting a Llanowar Elves and a Gleeful Sabotage the following turn for a considerably lower cost? This is a neat card to be sure, but just isn't that great at the five mana it costs to cast.
This is a card made for Limited and nothing more.
HIT 'EM WITH YOUR HARPOON, STEVE!
This seems largely like some removal meant more for Limited than anything but is still some solid removal for White. While I don't plan on this seeing tons of Constructed play, I definitely think it'll be a Pauper Cube favorite.
Three mana is a lot for what's ultimately a White Aggro card, but this is definitely something that gets bigger and bigger every turn. I think it'll be a bit considering how hard things like the monarch cards and Fiery Cannonade are going to shake the format up, but I certainly think we'll see plenty of this card in the coming years - especially as bans inevitably come down.
We have better mana rocks in the 60-card format, but for Pauper Commander this is a sweet new piece of fixing.
The Prismatic Piper
Anyone telling you this card is good for sideboarding in against Cast Down decks is just memeing on you. It's bad in every way and probably not good in Pauper Commander because of how those decks are built (around any uncommon creature - and it doesn't have to be legendary). The only real purpose to this card is to smooth out drafts of Commander Legends.
This card is truly uninspired and hideously boring. It's not even that exciting in a draft environment since it has to die for you to actually get the card. There're several Ophidian variations that are just going to be better than this several times over and none of them are good, barring Ninja of the Deep Hours.
And that's a wrap! Tons of powerful cards are about to enter the format. While I think there's a lot of warranted concerns about it all, I think it'll all work out in due time. Wizards has their pulse on the format right now and is watching very closely. Give the format a few weeks to adjust, and we'll see what needs to go if anything. But for the meantime, enjoy the format and the games best you can. There's a lot for Pauper to offer in even the worst of times, and I hope you too get to have some enjoyment out of the cards here.
And hey, if nothing else, maybe you can just get a nice draft or two in and try some Commander fun to change things up a bit!
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