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Ultimate Masters of Pauper

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Over the course of the past week, Wizards and many content creators took us through the wild ride of spoiler season for Ultimate Masters. Here we got some great reprints needed in virtually every format, including extremely high dollar cards like Back to Basics, Karn Liberated, and Liliana of the Veil. While many are salivating at the thought of cracking these cards in their packs, the people in the land of Pauper are looking at something a little simpler: the commons.

If you weren’t aware, Masters sets have become well known over the years as a hotspot for cards to be shifted in rarity. Some, like Chalice of the Void and Tarmogoyf, go up while others, such as Masked Admirers or Emperor Crocodile, go down. When cards drop down to common for the first time, it makes them playable in the all-common Pauper format, assuming they’re released in a set on Magic Online, that is. With Ultimate Masters comes some spicy new commons that have sent the community into a frenzy discussing the potentials at play here.

With that, I’m going to go over all twenty cards entering the format for the first time and where their impact on the format lies. First, I want to give a special shout out to some of the much needed reprints appearing in the set:

Circular Logic
Chainer's Edict
Grave Scrabbler
Faithless Looting
Lava Spike
Slippery Bogle

Some, like Circular Logic, Chainer's Edict, and Lava Spike, have been getting quite pricey. Others weren’t as costly but were a bit tough to find due to being in older sets from before the Magic boom that, as a result, had lower print runs. All of these, and others, are more than welcome here. There’s a couple glaring omissions such as Gush, Battle Screech, and of course, Oubliette, but I’m confident their time will come, assuming they remain in the format moving forward.

Even if some golden oldies were missed, however, we’ve got a whole slew of new goodies to check out so let’s have at it!

Lotus-Eye Mystics

Lotus-Eye Mystics

Starting off we’ve got Lotus-Eye Mystics, a card from Fate Reforged. Admittedly, I misread this when I saw it thinking it was a 2/3 and immediately thought “wow, this would go great in Orzhov Pestilence!” Then when you start to think about it, the toughness is key when it comes to Pestilence decks and both Monk Idealist and Auramancer are comparable and cheaper than the Mystics. Yes the Prowess can get you more bang for your buck for Pestilence activations, but since most of your other non-creature spells will be removal anyways, it sort of defeats the purpose. Most of the time you’d just rather be playing Pestilence or Guardian of the Guildpact over this anyway. As for Bogles and Heroic, this will far too little way too late.

Mammoth Umbra

Mammoth Umbra

This card is really cool and one I’ve loved using casually in different formats including Cube and EDH. Ultimately, though, it’s far too expensive to see any real play in decks like Bogles or Heroic where it can even be a struggle to hit your third land at times, nevermind your fifth.

Resurrection

Resurrection

Now THIS is a spicy downshift. A mainstay of classic Magic and a mainstay across casual formats, Resurrection is here to fill the void of reanimation spells the format has so desperately needed. The problem? Double White casting cost. This isn’t a card that would be so bad if it had only one White mana symbol on it, as you could easily splash it into whatever deck you wanted it in and be done with it. The thing is, though, as of now your typical Reanimator build is Dimir, focusing on cards like Striped Riverwinder, Gurmag Angler, and sometimes Ulamog's Crusher. The double White really disallows you being able to slot it into a deck like that. I’ve heard whispers of other attempts with this, such as Mardu, but the mana fixing is so rough in the format that three color decks are incredibly difficult to pull off well.

All in all I think Resurrection is a great reprint of a perennial classic and while I don’t think it has a home now, I’d bet money on it getting a home sometime in the future.

Skyspear Cavalry

Skyspear Cavalry

This card is unfortunately the most dull and boring of the bunch and is clearly the one card that was not downshifted for Pauper, but for Limited. Hard pass here.

Tethmos High Priest

Tethmos High Priest

There’s been some serious buzz about this guy. Resurrection might not be the reanimation spell we’re looking for in Pauper right now, but the High Priest looks pretty good for that spot. Unlike Resurrection, this card only costs three mana and it’s splashable. The stats leave a bit to be desired, as you’re getting a 2/3 for three. Tossing spells at it brings back Akroan Skyguards in Heroic, Mulldrifter-chomping Slippery Bogles in Hexproof, and or just about anything in White Weenies. There’s even been some talk of potential infinite combos with this creature and that’s not something to write off easily.

Ultimately I don’t see this one making a huge splash if only because the creatures you currently can get back are somewhat uneventful. People will try, however, and I’d love to be proven wrong on this.

Wandering Champion

Wandering Champion

I personally think this might be another downshift that was more specifically geared toward Limited, as most times it won’t be much more than a Raptor Companion, but its ability has potential if you can find a way to abuse it.

Foil

Foil

Strap yourselves in for this one, because we’re hitting what’s arguably the most controversial card in the set. When you read the card, the first thing that comes to mind is that Pauper now has an affect not unlike Force of Will. Then you read it again and you realize that to counter something, you’re essentially 3-for-1ing yourself. So begins the debate: there’s no doubt Foil’s effect is great, but is it good enough to warrant the drawback?

There’s a few things I see happening here:

  1. Dimir Reanimator strategies, already a somewhat fringe method of play, gain a little something out of this. Most people think Foil requires you to discard an Island and a Blue card, but in truth it’s actually any card in addition to the land. A close friend of mine once used this to great effect as a “gotcha” moment of sorts in Legacy Reanimator and I could see it doing similar here.
  2. Island heavy strategies use it for extra countermagic. I can’t see Izzet Delver using this too much, especially with the other new card it got, nor Tribe as it wants as many cards as possible, but in something like Mono-Blue Delver or Izzet Blitz it’s definitely got the potential to be a powerhouse. Don’t forget, Gush is a very real card, and the interaction with Foil is scary enough that some people feel Foil will be the final straw to remove Gush from the format permanently.
  3. None of the above end up being all that good, people try jamming it, and it fails. In the worst case, it’s a four-mana Counterspell with no real upside and wouldn’t you want to play something like Devious Cover-Up instead?

Ultimately I think there’s going to be a bit of all of these. Reanimator strategies will get a bump and it’ll make the other Blue decks, especially Izzet Blitz as it’s the less consistent creature-combo deck, a bit stronger. But the fact remains that Force of Will is considered the glue that keeps Legacy together because it keeps things honest. Unfair broken decks like Reanimator, Sneak and Show, and Belcher are kept in check by this key card. What is Foil looking to hit in that same sense to keep Pauper honest? I’m not so sure there really is something like that right in the here and now, but there’s bound to be eventually.

Moan of the Unhallowed

Moan of the Unhallowed

This card is sweet and I absolutely loved it in Innistrad Limited. It’s a great token generator that can be a decent buffer for the format’s many Black decks from Dimir to Mono-Black Control to even Zombies. The one negative that’s worth mentioning is that none of the tokens generated by this card fuel your devotion for Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

Offalsnout

Offalsnout

This card is sweet targeted graveyard hate. What makes this card so sweet is the versatility of it. You can play it whenever you want, be it as a Gray Ogre with upside or Evoking it as a Coffin Purge. The thing is, though, it can be countered in either way, unlike a similar effect in the form of Faerie Macabre. The difference is you can play this at instant speed even if you don’t really need to hit a card in a graveyard. Ultimately, I’m not all that sure this will see too much play with so much arguably better graveyard hate at our disposal. However, this is another great tool in our arsenal. Don’t forget, this card can also be Unearthed for maximum value.

Slum Reaper

Slum Reaper

Tortured Existence players rejoice! An effect long sought out by players of the format’s grindiest deck have been looking for a creature that causes a symmetrical sacrifice that they can recur again and again. Unfortunately, Slum Reaper isn’t Fleshbag Marauder or Merciless Executioner, but it’ll do just fine. It gives the deck an amazing tool to throw at creature decks, especially some certain slippery Hexproof creatures out there.

Arena Athlete

Arena Athlete

Arena Athlete is a card I’m not really hot on right now. Why? There’s just not much to do with it. If something like Boros Heroic becomes a real thing, this could have a home. After all, it saw a fair amount of play in Theros block Standard because of how it could push creatures through and get damage in. The potential is here, it just remains to be seen if it’ll be enough.

Molten Birth

Molten Birth

This card basically boils down to why aren’t you just playing Dragon Fodder and/or Krenko's Command? Those cards already don’t see much play either, and the extra mana cost is a big deal. Sure you can get it back, but leaving things in the hands of Lady Luck doesn’t seem like the most stable path to victory. I’d skip playing this one for now.

Reckless Wurm

Reckless Wurm

A lot of people were hoping for this one. Arrogant Wurm was already a pretty cool downshift that came to the format thanks to the online-only Vintage Masters, but it didn’t really see much play aside from the occasional oddball deck. As such, most people felt Reckless Wurm was safe to downshift as well. With an excellent Madness draft archetype came the perfect opportunity to do so and here we are, the sweet Planar Chaos color-shifted Wurm is here to play ball.

A lot of the hype for this one has been for decks like Rakdos Tortured Existence lists, Rakdos Reanimator with Dragon Fangs and the like, and even in Boros Monarch utilizing Faithless Looting or else hard casting in the late game. It’s not quite Angler sized, but a 4/4 Trampler is nothing to scoff at.

Sparkspitter

Sparkspitter

This is another sweet card, turning dead cards, Madness cards, or Reanimator targets into creature-based Lightning Bolts. The problem is getting this card to do what it needs to do. For one, its stats aren’t that great. Three-mana 1/3s just aren’t going to cut it, especially in a world of actual Bolts. On top of that, the card itself doesn’t have Haste, meaning you have to make sure it stays alive in order to use it. I can’t see this making a huge splash, but it’s worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Groundskeeper

Groundskeeper

I’m not sure how to feel about this one. It gets back lands tossed to the yard by the likes of Satyr Wayfinder, Forbidden Alchemy, and Grisly Salvage. Really, though, I think it’s too much effort to put into getting your cards back and being just a 1/1, it’s not strong enough to get there. Someone can certainly make a shell around this one but I just don’t see it right now.

Miming Slime

Miming Slime

The rate is real here assuming you have a really strong creature, but at that point you really should already be winning the game and so this card is likely win-more in most circumstances. Slime Molding, which saw a downshift last year in Modern Masters 2017 really never saw much play and given the kinds of cards you’d be playing this alongside are 2/2s or less, you’re just getting a bad rate on this one.

Dimir Guildmage

Dimir Guildmage

So full disclosure: I absolutely love Dimir Guildmage. You may not think it, but it was one of my favorite cards in all of original Ravnica and was a card I loved to play in my Underworld Dreams deck I was rocking in Standard back then. So when I saw it here, I was nothing short of delighted. An old favorite coming to a whole new world of Magic goodness, this time in the land of commons where I think it will definitely make a splash.

The sweet thing about this card is in its versatility. Its mana cost allows you to play it in Mono-Black, Mono-Blue, and Dimir decks with ease and gives you amazing mana sinks for each. Making your opponent discard cards is solid, if a bit medium as they’ll likely have used what they intended by that point. Drawing cards, however, is even better. The card is a little frail to a lot of the format’s removal, but a 2/2 for two is still as solid a beater as ever end the other things about it are pure upside. Oh, and did I mention the double hybrid mana cost counts for Gray Merchant devotion?

Fire // Ice

Here it is: Ultimate Masters’ true boogeyman for the Pauper format. I honestly can’t believe that in a format overrun by Izzet Delver, they would give us this. And make no mistake, it’s going to be played there. A lot. It’ll also see plenty of play in various Tron builds and Izzet Blitz. The cards seem so medium on their face and I’ve had people question why it’s so good. I mean, Fire is just a Twin Bolt and Ice is just a week tap spell. The key to this card, like all split cards, is the versatility and choice in giving you what you need exactly when you need it.

Do you need to burn away a couple small creatures? Done. Need a big creature put down so you can push through for the kill? No problem. Going for lethal with an opponent at two? Take them down. Just need a better card? Cycle it away by targeting a land you just tapped. That’s the thing about Fire // Ice and its cousins: they do a number of different things in one small package. So while the individual parts are a bit weaker, it’s the whole thing that makes it the most effective.

The one thing I could see stopping Fire // Ice right now is that decks like Izzet Delver and Izzet Blitz are pretty airtight. They feel like they want the card as a four-of, but really it’ll likely be closer to a two-of for now as people try it out. Make no mistake though: this one WILL make a huge splash into the format.

Canker Abomination

Canker Abomination

This card feels like it’s so close but isn’t quite there. In Black decks it’s pretty good after a board wipe, but let’s say you can’t kill them all. Then what? You’re getting stuck with dead cards in your hand. This is even worse for the Green decks as they don’t have many removal options. Also, if you have access to Black, Gurmag Angler will cost your opponent one whole mana for a 5/5 while this one will probably be a 5/5 for four mana at best most of the time. Overall, I think this has potential, but the rate seems sketchy enough that I don’t want to risk it.

Vessel of Endless Rest

Vessel of Endless Rest

Simply put I don’t think this card will make a big splash in competitive Pauper. As it stands we already have considerably better mana rocks for a more affordable rate. I can see some decks wanting the first half of the card, but even those probably don’t need a mana rock this expensive save for maybe Flicker-based Tron lists. I have heard a bit of buzz about this in Pauper EDH and Pauper Cubes though, and like many of the above cards, I think it’ll have a fine home there.


At the end of the day, I expect the following cards to make the biggest appearances in the format when Ultimate Masters drops:

  1. Fire // Ice
  2. Foil
  3. Tethmos High Priest
  4. Dimir Guildmage
  5. Slum Reaper

The big thing about most of these cards is they don’t have a clear cut home yet. Consider a card like Seeker of the Way, for example. Many people saw the card getting a downshift in Iconic Masters and were convinced it was the biggest downshift for the set, even over Lead the Stampede. Lead the Stampede, however, had a plainly obvious deck or two that it slid into smoothly while Seeker took awhile to find a proper home. I think many of the cards here will fall into the same category. Something like Fire // Ice is real obvious how to use it, but then cards like Resurrecton, Reckless Wurm, and Tethmos High Priest leave us scratching our heads wondering how to make them work best. How will you use them and what do you think will be the biggest breakout star of Ultimate Masters?