Oh boy, look at the time! There's a new Magic release and you know what that means. That's right, it's time for another Pauper set review! This time we're talking about the new gangster, roaring twenties, art deco fueled set Streets of New Capenna. I personally love this aesthetic and style of this plane and have looked forward to it for some time. While the overall reception of the set thus far seems a little mixed for other formats, there's some really interesting cards at the common level with very few actually feeling overtly busted. There's a ton of cards to discuss, though, so once again I'll be splitting my review into two articles covering White, Blue, and Black cards today and the rest in my second part later in the week.
Before diving into the greater set, I did want to first touch on a couple of the cycles. While these are technically a bit of a better fit for the second part of my review because of the colors, I tend to like getting them out of the way right out of the gate and all together. Not to mention, frankly, the second part already has a good number more cards than this first part does even without these three cycles. Let's dive right into them!
First up, we've got a set of brand-new dual lands! These are really interesting for Pauper as they're some of the only lands that allow the player to outright draw a card. Now, will they make an appearance? Maybe, maybe not. We've been getting a lot more duals lately and I think it ends up being very context sensitive about whether you want them or not. For one, the activation is fairly pricey at effectively five mana (including the land you're tapping itself) and a lot of decks simply can't afford that. Your typical aggro deck isn't going to be able to do a lot with them and your control decks might rather want a Khans dual or a Ravnica bounce land over these, though I can see them showing up in small doses.
Let's think about the kinds of decks that might be interested in these. Bogles could actually hit the necessary mana in a decent number of games, but you'd much rather have Arctic Treeline from Kaldheim for the land types thanks to Utopia Sprawl. Azorius decks (i.e. Familiars, mainly) would rather use the Ravnica bounce lands for their synergy with Snap. Gruul decks are much too quick to rely on something like this, and cascade lists also tend to use Utopia Sprawl much like the aforementioned Bogles. There is a chance Rakdos and Dimir control-oriented lists may be interested in these, but I'm not convinced they'll make the cut most of the time.
In short, these are the kinds of lands that I think might show up here and there depending on the build. Some players will prefer them, so you'll see them appear from time to time. If you do, though, I expect they'll be inclusions in small numbers to compliment other duals that we've seen in the past. I would not, however, expect them to become regular mainstays in the format given how many other solid dual options we already have.
Much like how the new draw duals won't see a ton of play due to generally having other more preferred options, I expect it to be a similar situation with these. They're basically an immediate Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse, but they gain you a life in the process. Ultimately it comes down to this: would you rather gain a life, or be able to hold the sacrifice until you absolutely need it? Most of the time Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse are run, it's to capitalize on casting Brainstorm, and in that case you want to hold the sacrifice as long as possible to maximize the utility of that spell. As such, I don't foresee these showing up that much, but expect you'll see them now and again.
Now if you want to talk about some really good mana fixing effects, let's talk about these cards! These are excellent options for fixing mana and are already being discussed as fantastic options for Tron. Basically, they not only act as a great way to turn your colorless lands into colored mana sources, but they act as finishers later in the game if you no longer need to hold up that mana. What's more, thanks to the way the cards are worded, you can still cast them even if the land they targeted has been blown up, meaning you still will have an opportunity to cast them later on.
Given how few three-color decks really exist out there I'm not entirely sure where these fit beyond Tron lists, but I'd expect some of them to find a home somewhere. When you have a card that's great in the early game and great in the late game, you've got a pretty solid playable. I can't think of any possible homes right now, but I definitely expect them to show up in the future. Even if they don't make a major dent in the format, I still adore these designs. They're very well executed. More of these, please.
Boon of Safety
Now into the usual colors, we start off with this innocuous little spell. The main place this might be playable is in Mono-White Heroic, where it pays to target a creature and set up your creature so it sticks around and lives. The deck already has Gods Willing and Emerge Unscathed which fill this roll exceptionally well while also providing strong evasion at the same time. This card can provide a slight benefit in that unlike Gods Willing, you don't need to sandbag it so if you need the scry value, you can fire it off whenever you need to. Losing the evasion side of that is a really big tradeoff, though, so I don't think it's likely we'll see this replace Gods Willing anytime soon, but I could also see lists going down some number of the card in favor of this.
A one-mana 0/4 isn't really the most exciting creature, but one that can turn into a 5/5 on a whim is a lot nicer. Five mana is a lot, and it's likely going to mean that this kitty won't see much play. However, that's both a good starting body and a good power jump if you can activate its ability, so I definitely think there's a world where this can make an appearance in the future.
Getting permanently bigger with every creature you play is really awesome, but the four mana cost sure isn't. Were this a little cheaper (perhaps costing instead of ) I think we'd be having a different discussion, but as is, this card is far too slow. The closest comparison is Elvish Vanguard at two mana (with the limit being it only triggers off of elves specifically) and even that's not the greatest a ton of the time. Too often it gets eternally chump blocked or taken out easily with a removal spell like Cast Down or Snuff Out.
We see these effects fairly often in Magic, but unfortunately the stats are usually fairly mediocre. Squadron Hawk only really saw a ton of play because it's an evasive creature that you can play for relatively cheap. The cost of three mana here is a lot, but the stat line is a lot more aggressive than most of the creatures with the "search for any number of this card" ability. That alone makes me like the look of this card and feel like it could have some amount of playability as a good way to get through your deck while still having a solid beater in the process.
Priest of Ancient Lore eat your heart out! The Priest was a big deal when it came out, offering solid card draw in White for the first time in a long while. The card was utilized from time to time in flicker decks as a way to both draw some cards and gain life at the same time. Inspiring Overseer coming out less than a year later simply kicks Priest to the curb. This is the exact same card but with flying, making it a lot more comparable to something like Mulldrifter, though obviously not quite as good. Flicker decks that wanted Priest will now use this, and I think it's safe to say that we'll be seeing this card a fairly decent amount when it comes to White aggro decks in the future.
Raffine's Guidance has a niche use and doesn't look super spectacular but can be a really big deal in the right deck. Once more we look to Mono-White Heroic, where this card can be used to repeatedly come back at a slightly higher cost, allowing more benefits. It's fighting for a spot with Sentinel's Eyes for sure - a card which provides vigilance in addition to the stat buff. However, Sentinel's Eyes requires cards in the graveyard while this doesn't, meaning there's more possibilities for this to be used repeatedly. There aren't many ways to sacrifice this repeatedly to reap the benefits, but there is some hope with Lunarch Mantle being occasionally playable. This is a card with a lot of potential and it just needs the right additional pieces to come together and make it a house.
On first read I kind of wrote this off. A two-mana 2/1 with a one-time loot is unique, but not the most exciting. Where it gets a lot better, though, is the fact that if you ditch a non-land card, you end up with a 3/2 for two and found a better card in the process. Now that sounds like one hell of a deal! It gets even better when the format is known for making use of a lot of big flashback spells or trying to fill the graveyard for things like delve. One interesting thing that comes to mind is that a lot of the better reanimation spells in Pauper over the last few years are actually White, meaning this could help with those kinds of decks just a little more. It won't push them over the edge into being tier one or anything, but it'll make them better when people try playing them.
Revelation of Power
More Heroic goodness! Normally I'd be a bit medium on a pump spell like this, but with Heroic decks, you're always guaranteed to get flying and lifelink out of the deal with how the heroic ability triggers. That's both good evasion and an even wider life point swing from the life you'll gain as well. Now, granted, one of the main heroic creatures already flies, so there's a bit of value lost on that front, but it's still a cheap pump spell that gives lifelink. And if you're able to put it on a Lagonna-Band Trailblazer or Seeker of the Way, you're gonna get even more value from it. I still think Heroic lists are probably a little too tight for something like this as is, but it's certainly a great option that has potential for play.
This is mostly worth the mention of being repeatable draw in White, which has largely been a rarity for a long time - especially in Pauper. Boros has had a lot of that, but kind of incidentally by way of colorless cantriping artifacts. This is just straight card draw on a creature with some respectable stats. The catch, though, is that your opponent draws a card as well, which is not ideal in most cases. Still, if you're up against a deck that's tapped out, locked out, and/or you have infinite/a large amount of mana, you can make it so that doesn't ultimately matter. I don't think this will make it in the end but the potential is there.
Getting counters on creatures is really easy and it makes this card comically easy to turn on. With how the card reads, you could just have the counters on this creature or one other creature. In the right deck, this might as well just be a 3/3 for two mana, and that's a big deal. There isn't really a deck right now that wants to take advantage of this at the moment, but there's certainly been an aggro counters deck brewing around for a hot minute and if ever there was a card for it, this is the one. And even if it can't attack right away, a 3/3 goes a long way in the blocking department, which might just be all you really need.
Case the Joint
I think there's better ways to draw two cards at instant speed (looking at you Behold the Multiverse), but getting a little information out of the deal isn't bad. You can tell what's coming up on your side and your opponent's, which can help you formulate a game plan. That said, I think the amount of information you'll glean from this is negligible at best, and as such you should probably stop casing and start beholding.
The base stats on this just aren't great. Connive makes or breaks this card, and while the stats get better if you discard a nonland card and it improves your options a little with the looting, this just does not seem good enough for Pauper - especially at four mana.
A 1/1 for one mana is boring and generally bad. When was the last time you saw someone play Fugitive Wizard, after all? The reason this card is worth looking at, though, is the fact that you can exile it from your graveyard and make an unblockable attacker. That's actually a lot better, as you can attack or block as needed with the base creature and get a second that can sneak in some unblockable damage or be another blocker. Not a bad deal in all honesty! You can even ninjutsu with the token, though you lose the value of being able to replay the creature as it poofs from existence when it goes to your hand. It's far from the most exciting card in the set, but there's definitely enough to like what's going on with this card.
We've seen these transformation effects time and again and they're rarely good enough. This does have the package of turning a creature into an evasive 4/4 while cantriping, which is solid. The real enticing aspect here, though, that might get missed on first read is that it can turn an artifact into a creature, which is pretty big game. Slap this onto an Ichor Wellspring and it either gets some solid damage through, kills a creature, or gets removed in which case you draw a card and get a removal spell out of the opponent's hand. As always with these effects, I'm not sure this is really gonna be enough for it to make the cut, but there's certainly more going on here than we've seen in the past, so it might be worth keeping an eye on as it may yet show up in the format.
Oh, now this one I like. Bogles is secretly a five color deck and can pretty easily cast this and get a ridiculous amount of value out of the deal. Unblockable is great at any point in the game and conniving is actually a lot better than it looks at first glance. You can pitch unneeded or unplayable cards and start buffing your hexproof creatures even if you can't find a ton of potent auras while at the same time actually helping you find the cards you really need. Getting the right cards consistently has always been a problem for the deck, so this can definitely be a big help. What's more, getting even one or two counters on your creature can help evade Electrickery or similar board wipes that often get brought in against the deck. Because of the mana restrictions and it not being good in multiples, it'll largely be a one or two-of when it does show up.
I did also see a few people talking about playing this card with Ninja decks along with Smoke Shroud and such and I just can't help but think: why? If you put this on a creature to make it unblockable and ninjutsu the creature back, the aura is just gone, and with it the value it was offering. The appeal of Smoke Shroud is that it continually comes back from the graveyard, which is why it's great with ninjas. This doesn't, so it's probably not gonna be worth it in that kind of setting a lot of the time. I guess there's something to be said about making the ninjas themselves unblockable and getting buffs from connive, but that really doesn't feel like enough to warrant a card like this in my opinion.
We've seen these kinds of cards before and I definitely recall Kasmina's Transfiguration being played around the release of War of the Spark. This is cheaper and you get the humorous advantage of getting to deal with a "Legitimate Businessperson." That screams a strong potential playable to me. Definitely expect to see this one in the future, especially in the likes of Mono-Blue lists.
Corrupt Court Official
Wow, a surprise Portal: Three Kingdoms reprint and downshift was not what I had on my New Capenna bingo card. That set had a lot of cards from the first two Portal sets get (mostly) functionally identical versions that better suited the flavor of P3K and this is no exception, having been a new version of Ravenous Rats. We've seen a number of Ravenous Rats clones over the years, with Burglar Rat and Virus Beetle having also come around in recent years. None of these see play, so I doubt this card will either, but we are coming up on a critical mass of these effects. I wonder if we'll eventually see someone try to use as many of these cards as possible and see if it goes anywhere (though, in all honesty, it probably won't).
Creatures coming into play tapped are usually pretty unexciting. A 3/2 for two mana is actually quite good, even if it comes in tapped down. All it basically says is "when this creature enters the battlefield, it can't block until your next upkeep." Most of your creatures are gonna not be able to attack anyways, so the drawback is probably a lot less of a drawback than it initially looks. Black-based aggro decks have grown in popularity lately, so this is definitely the sort of card that's worth keeping your eyes on.
A 1/1 for one mana doesn't look too exciting, but it's secretly a 2/1 that makes you lose a life each turn. We've certainly had these before in cards like Vampire Lacerator and Carnophage, but more is definitely always a plus. That said, these stats haven't been the greatest in a while, and I doubt we're exactly going to see a rise in Suicide Black decks anytime soon. Still, it's a good aggressive card and should a low-to-the-ground Black deck come up, I imagine it may have this kind of card in it.
We've seen some instant speed variants of Read the Bones at common, but never just straight up Read the Bones with an extra mana tacked on. Now, Read the Bones hasn't seen play in a while. However, when it looks like this, it gets a lot more enticing. I don't know where it fits, though, given that most decks that would want this are control decks that also play Blue. If you're playing Blue, you usually just have better card draw options at your disposal, making this a lot less than ideal. It's still a good card, though, and I expect it'll get played once in a while, but largely it just barely misses the cut for the format.
Dig Up the Body
Normally, Raise Dead effects just aren't that great unless you're able to get a number of creatures back as well. So, when I look at this card, my first impression is to simply write it off. However, milling yourself a little does work for some decks and you get a creature back. Okay, but that's still not enough for three mana. Being able to sacrifice a small creature to do it again and maybe get some sacrifice value? That's a little more enticing. I definitely don't think there's enough here to make it really be that good that I'd ultimately want it, but there's enough to this whole package that gives me that gut feeling that it might be a bit better than it looks at first glance.
Extract the Truth
This is one hell of a sideboard card. Being a discard spell for creatures and enchantments or being simple enchantment removal can be a pretty big deal. This is also the cheapest that we've seen an enchantment edict effect in Black so far, which is definitely a big deal, even if it's sorcery speed compared to its three-mana siblings. This seems to me like a shoe-in for future sideboards, if only for the slight versatility in modes which often times will both be decently relevant.
Fake Your Own Death
We see these Unnatural Stamina effects every so often and they usually don't make the cut. That said, those cards don't also make treasure tokens, which this one does. A big reason for Deadly Dispute's success compared to the likes of Costly Plunder and the like really is that one extra treasure you get out of the deal. As such, it's possible this similarly pushes this effect into the realm of playability. Keep your eyes on this one.
A five mana 4/4 that can sometimes turn into a 2/2 isn't that great, in all honesty. Using the blitz ability, though, makes it a lot better. At four mana, you get a one-time hasty big creature that dies afterwards, leaves behind a body, and replaces itself on death. That's quite a lot happening even if it's at four mana, so I definitely think this has a shot at being fairly playable. Four mana is still a lot in Pauper, especially when you consider this sort of card probably wants to be in more of an aggro deck, so right now it might not make the cut, but boy is there a lot happening that it can be a house.
Punisher mechanic cards (cards that give your opponents a choice of two "bad" options") are historically almost always worse than they look. The reason being, your opponents will usually just take whichever is less painful, and it's usually not the choice you want them to make at that given moment. What's more, this card targets creatures, which means it can't be used as an edict on hexproof creatures. It's just not good. Stick to your Chainer's Edicts.
And that's a wrap for part one of my Streets of New Capenna Pauper review! There're certainly some interesting cards this time around, and there will be even more in my second part covering the remaining colors. You can expect to see that on this upcoming Friday. In the meantime, though, what do you think of the set? Are there any cards you're excited to try out? What kinds of Pauper decks are you hoping to build using these cards? Let me know down below, and I'll see you again with more Pauper action this Friday!