It hasn't even been a month since Dominaria United hit store shelves and we've already got full previews of two all new releases. The Universes Beyond: Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks and Unfinity have both been revealed in full. Both releases were delayed, leading to this rush of new preview seasons and new releases. As is usual with new releases is a fresh Pauper set review to discuss the impact of the newest cards entering the all-common format. Let's dive in first and foremost with the Warhammer 40,000 precons.
The Warhammer 40,000 decks provide a bunch of cool new reprints. Darkness is the most notable, as it's getting the first reprint in roughly 15 years! It doesn't show up too often, but it does sometimes and is great to have more copies out there for Pauper and other formats like Modern that also utilize it. There's also new arts for Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Defile, Vault of Whispers, and a bunch of the Tarkir gain lands. Among the cards in this release, though, there were a couple unusual rarity shifts.
Typically when Commander precons are made, they usually use the most recent rarity printed. This is frequently the case with non-Commander precons as well. As a result, outside of any brand new cards, we never see anything downshifted. The only exception to this rule I can think of would be Forked Bolt in Duel Decks: Zendikar vs. Eldrazi several years ago. With Warhammer 40,000, though, we saw a number of changes. Some were weird upshifts like Hull Breach, a card whose only uncommon printing was in a Magic Online release, or Everflowing Chalice going to rare for no reason. More importantly, two cards were downshifted to common, meaning we get to talk about these cards
There was a point in time a few years back where I would've said the idea of Go for the Throat entering Pauper would be pretty wild. It's an unconditional removal spell that hits virtually every target short of the likes of Myr Enforcer, Spire Golem, and Frogmite. We occasionally see other artifact creatures from time to time, like when Self-Assembler Tron was a thing for a brief moment. Still, seeing these artifact creatures tends to be a bit of a rarity among the format's usual suspects, so the range of targets on this card seems ridiculously open for an outright kill spell at two mana.
Compare this to Doom Blade. Doom Blade lacks the ability to hit Black creatures. This didn't matter too much for the overwhelming majority of the format's decks outside of Mono-Black Control and the odd deck running Gurmag Angler. Black has largely been seen as one of the format's weaker colors for some time, despite being used in tandem with other colors (usually Blue) to make some of the format's strongest decks. As a result, while it's a rarity to see Black creatures over other colors, you were often still more likely to see Black creatures than you would artifact ones, generally making Go for the Throat that much better.
Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. In the years that have passed since, Cast Down was downshifted in Double Masters. Snuff Out has also gained a greater presence in the format as well, meaning there's less slots to utilize additional removal spells. Even the biggest argument for downshifting Go for the Throat in the past - Gurmag Angler - is seeing less play nowadays. That's even more true now that Tolarian Terror has entered the format and is basically an Angler that doesn't require you to exile your graveyard.
This puts Go for the Throat in a strange spot. Even if you were playing a deck that wanted more removal than just copies of Cast Down and Snuff Out, you'd likely be running cards like Chainer's Edict in case of Bogles. If you're a Mono-Black deck, Defile is probably going to work much better in tandem with Cast Down over almost anything else. As a result, Go for the Throat is in a weird spot when it comes to Pauper. It's extremely good and will definitely be showing up from time to time, but the reality is the general removal is simply just going to be better. It's unfortunate that a card which would've once been so good is now so mediocre, but that's just how it goes sometimes. At the very least, it'll still get its time in the sun every so often.
There's far less to say about Unstable Obelisk compared to Go for the Throat. This is a mana rock that can be an all-purpose removal spell in a pinch. It was designed primarily to give certain colored Commander decks a little more reach than usual. For example, now a Mono-Red deck can have a way to deal with enchantments - something to color is notorious for having difficulty dealing with. White can blow up planeswalkers, Blue can actually kill things instead of just bouncing and countering, etc.
In the case of Pauper, the removal ability is just far too much for your average deck to really care about. Three MV mana rocks only really end up seeing play if they generate a lot of value, such as the card draw that Bonder's Ornament provided while legal or the life gain Pristine Talisman gives true control decks. Being a mana rock that only taps for colorless mana and does nothing else unless you have only seven mana isn't going to take you very far. The only deck that really might want it is various Tron builds, but those decks like to make colors work and utilizes those for the necessary removal instead. Once you might've occasionally seen Scour from Existence show up, but those days are long gone.
As a result, I think it's likely Unstable Obelisk makes it in Pauper. I know Pauper Commander has gotten a fair bit of traction in recent years, though, and this is quite welcome for that. Even putting aside the Commander appeal, this is still a pretty cool downshift despite its low power. Same with Go for the Throat. I'd love to continue seeing more iconic cards like this show up.
Now that we've gotten Warhammer 40,000 out of the way, let's talk Unfinity. Unfinity is the brand-new joke set coming out. In the past, Un-sets have been silver bordered with the silver border providing a distinct way to separate them as not being tournament legal. With Unfinity, however, Wizards decided to make the set black bordered and would use an acorn symbol to help denote if a card is not legal for traditional tournament play. For the most part, this isn't particularly notable as Un-set cards often aren't terribly strong anyways as the fun is the main point, but it does help that we don't get cards like Nearby Planet which would make Tron decks a nightmare.
There's far more to discuss when it comes to this set, so let's get started. Let the show begin!
The first and most obvious thing we need to address with regards to Unfinity is the attractions. In the simplest terms possible they're completely irrelevant with regards to Pauper in every way. They're literally unplayable, and not just because the effects are fairly poor. In order to play with attractions, you need to have a secondary deck with ten uniquely named cards. In other words, it needs to be singleton and you can run different versions of the same card. As it happens, only eight eternal-legal commons are in Unfinity which means that you can't make the secondary deck requiring you to play with attractions in the first place.
It is, however, always possible that attractions may make a comeback somewhere down the line. While I doubt we'd see them in most sets, there's always a chance that we may end up seeing them once again in a future Un-set. So far we have yet to see a return for contraptions from Unstable but you never know what may happen. What happens if they suddenly do become playable properly? Simple: absolutely nothing.
When it comes to competitive play, players try removing as much variance as possible. Attractions are variance incarnate, providing random attractions and then rolling to try hitting random abilities. That's never going to make the cut - even for the memes. Attractions are something largely just focused on Limited play and making for a fun play experience. For tournament-level Magic, though, they don't stand even a ghost of a chance.
It's a similar situation with stickers. Actually playing with stickers is a remarkably strange circumstance. There's one sticker sheet in each booster pack of Unfinity and rather than drafting it, you automatically keep the one you open from your pack as you would a token. As a result, you end up with three sheets. To simulate this for Constructed, you need a singleton deck of ten sticker sheets - much like with attractions - and select three randomly at the start of the game. Unlike attractions, there's 48 sticker sheets making it very possible to play them.
There's two factors keeping them from being playable in a competitive sense. The first and most important is the variance. Much like what would set attractions back if they were legal, there's no way to actually know what you're going to get. Because you need to randomly choose from ten sticker sheets, you can never properly determine which stat-adjusting stickers you're going to have access to. Then there's the second factor, which is that most of the stickers that affect those stats or provide keywords require tickets - something you can only get by playing cards that give you them. Most of those cards just aren't that great.
I do think there are some exceptions, though, as well as some other cards that are worth talking about to some degree. Namely cards that have come up in discussions: _______ Goblin, Wizards of the _______, and Wolf in _______ Clothing.
I'm going to start off by discussing these three together. There's a few other cards that care about the number of vowels in name stickers, but they really don't matter. _______ Bird Gets the Worm cares about life, which is so minimal it's barely worth talking about. _______-o-Saurus gets big but usually only gets to a 6/6 or 7/7 trampler and that's just not good enough. These three, on the other hand, are worth talking about.
You see, while the sticker sheets you play with are in fact randomly picked at the start of the game, you can take some amount of measures to mitigate that variance. You do that here by taking advantage of the fact that there are eight sheets where you can find a sticker that has four or more vowels in it. These are those sheets:
- Eldrazi Guacamole (4) Tightrope
- Narrow-Minded (4) Baloney (4) Fireworks
- Unsanctioned (5) Ancient Juggler
- Phyrexian (4) Midway Bamboozle
- Ancestral Hot Dog Minotaur (4)
- Playable Delusionary (5) Hydra
- Unassuming Gelatinous (5) Serpent
- Unglued Pea-Brained Dinosaur (4)
Even if you somehow get two sheets without a four-vowel sticker, it's not hard to set up the remaining slots with three vowel stickers for some potent value all the same. You will always get at least one four vowel sticker this way, however, guaranteeing some big effects from these three cards. _______ Goblin is the notable one here that people have been discussing a lot, as it allows you come out with an extra Red mana over what you cast it for. That can mean you can cast lots of stuff or possibly create a surplus if you can find a way to repeatedly flicker it, bounce it, etc.
Wizards of the _______ drew comparisons to the likes of Sea Gate Oracle and Organ Hoarder when first previewed. I don't think many people were expecting a creature that could Impulse whenever the creature enters the battlefield. Similarly, Wolf in _______ Clothing kills two creatures at once - something never really seen on creature ETB effects. Even more notable, with a four vowel sticker, you can take out multiple Myr Enforcers with one drop.
An important note about stickers in the context of these cards: stickers will stay permanently on a stickered card when it moves between the battlefield, graveyard, and exile. That means stickers can only be used once in most situations. They stick around if you do flicker nonsense, though. If you bounce them to your hand with something like Snap, though, the sticker comes off the card and goes back on the sheet. This is sort of a moot point, though, as you'll likely just be reusing the same sticker on the card when you play it once again. Based on all this, these three cards would be the most noteworthy sticker-related cards to keep an eye on in the format.
Tap effects are usually just okay, but if you can use this in combination with name stickers, it's really easy to get this back over and over again. That's probably not quite good enough and has enough variance to it I wouldn't be thrilled to play it, but the potential is there.
If you want a repeatable source of tickets, here you go. Blorbian Buddy can be written off pretty easily, as it doesn't do nearly enough to warrant an inclusion. Ticket Turbotubes is a little better by being a mana rock in addition to a repeatable ticket generator, but without the actual stickers payoff, it's not likely to get anywhere. Prize Wall is the best option here, as it can not only give you repeatable tickets, but also blocks well and can distribute stickers as needed. Sadly, with the sticker ability costing five mana, it's not likely most decks will have a way to utilize this ability
The Troupe utilizes tickets, yes, but that's somewhat inconsequential. I'm personally more interested in the fact that this is a bear with ward 2 on it. That's actually pretty solid for aggressive decks as a way to push through attacks while avoiding removal. In multiples, you can even sometimes get decent stat or ability buffs from sticker sheets, making this a potentially potent threat.
The attractions side of this doesn't matter, but it's not hard to get some tickets and stickers out of this. If you have a deck that can repeatedly re-cast this spell, you can potentially get quite a bit of value out of this. Given that most decks will have better things to get back or run barely any creatures, I think the applications of this will be limited. It'll probably be largely relegated to meme decks people take to local events for fun, but not make a wider splash.
It's a faerie that deals with stickers. Could be a flicker target in addition to getting more value for Spellstutter Sprite, but it's still pricey at three mana. I think the one thing that will prove how good this card might be will be how good the piles of abilities and stats are that you can cobble together, as making your tiny faeries huge or with relevant abilities may be better than it looks at first read.
Stickers or not, this card is actually a pretty good rate for Red creature aggro builds. One of the key points of Red Deck Wins is how it attacks with an overabundance of two power hasty creatures, usually at two mana. Two of these means you get a stat boost or extra ability, so you could end up even stronger just for playing cards you'd normally be playing anyways. This is one of the options that mitigates the variance by having the stickers being an afterthought, so even though Red Deck Wins isn't that good in the meta now, this is one to look for in that deck.
Two mana 3/1s are rarely good enough to make the cut, but the potential to give this lifelink is pretty big. Still, you need to actually land a sticker with it to make it work, and I'm not sure White aggro decks are going to be the ones to want those effects.
Cheap tickets and dishes out stickers in any color. I'm not gonna say this one's really that great, but it's an option if you want it.
If you're looking to go all in on the sticker plan, this should be your win con. It's not terribly difficult to get this going in the right deck and can end up dealing tons of damage with ease. The applications for this one are extremely narrow, but when it works, it can really work.
Now that we've covered stickers and attractions, I want to talk about the other cards that might be relevant from Unfinity that don't rely as much on these mechanics. There's not too many of them, but there's a few that are definitely worth discussing. Let's look at them!
In general, I do think there's better bounce options, but this card is notable in that it can let you scry a much greater number of cards than normal. Voyage's End is the only real comparable option and that only scrys for one. This has a decent shot of scrying two or three cards instead. Is that worth playing over something like Snap or Vapor Snag? Probably not, but it's still an option worthy of consideration.
From a statistical standpoint, you're rarely ever going to hit three of the same number, meaning while the chances of getting only one token are possible, it's highly unlikely. I believe there's a higher chance of hitting three tokens, but by and large I'm fairly sure this is more often than not going to be comparable to something like Master's Call than anything else. That's unfortunate because in a world where Hordeling Outburst is legal and sees no play and Kuldotha Rebirth calls the shots, this really doesn't have a shot. Even if you want the tokens for a more artifact-leaning strategy, I'd rather utilize the next card instead.
This is much better! At face value, this is basically a Servo Exhibition downshift that can give you a third token at a decent rate. That might make it seem a little worse than Raise the Alarm as those creatures can be made at instant speed, but these are artifact creatures. They're also White artifact creatures, which can enable you to utilize cards like Prismatic Strands, Battle Screech, and Ramosian Rally as well. That's on top of all the general artifact synergy that currently exists in the format. I don't think this is a slam dunk and has to prove itself, but the potential is real with this card.
The flying and haste on this makes me really like it. It's pricey and will likely deal you some damage, but often not much. The biggest thing going against this is how many cheap fliers block this with ease, but for aggressive Black decks, I could see this making a cut in sideboards to help get damage through matchups that lack fliers.
Generally I'm not too high on this, but as more and more die rolling comes to Magic, this may be one to keep an eye on. Two damage isn't a lot, but repeatable damage can be a big deal if the right setup comes along.
This one's the clearest home run winner of the set. Embiggen is a massive boon to Infect decks as it buffs Glistener Elf, Ichorclaw Myr, and Blighted Agent by +4/+4 each thanks to the addition of the Phyrexian type via errata. For Blight Mamba, it's a Giant Growth as well. The deck has struggled with holding together enough consistency to actually be a player in tournaments, but there's a possibility that adding this card into the mix will get the brewers working to make it happen once again.
Even if we're not counting just the infect side of things, there's some particularly notable creatures this works on. Gingerbrute is a particular standout, getting a solid +4/+4 from this and being able to become unblockable. Vault Skirge is another way to get the max buff on an evasive body. Both already show up here and there in Stompy lists, so this can be a solid inclusion there. Stonework Packbeast gains a mighty +7/+7 from this, though if you run it it's a pretty obvious tell what you're likely packing in your hand.
If you want to go through a more comprehensive list of options, check out this selection. It's not all-inclusive, as it misses cards like Stonework Packbeast which gains extra types from its text box. The majority of cards are here, though, so this is a great resource if you want to put your brewing cap on.
This is one big creature for three mana, and it's an artifact to boot. Wow is that sure a drawback when it dies, though. On average, you're usually going to take a low amount of damage if any at all. On the rare occasions you crit and hit the three or four life, though, you're really going to be feeling it. If you're willing to take the gamble, then try this out in some small numbers, but I personally wouldn't recommend it.
If you can get lots of robots on the field (which is mostly tokens and changelings here) this can be solid as a blocker that makes big pumps. Right now, this just isn't going to get you there, but who knows, maybe one day we'll get enough robots to utilize and make this a worthwhile inclusion.
I definitely saw some people talking about this with enthusiasm, but I just don't see it. A lot of times it won't kill what you want it to and it's three mana. Play removal that doesn't rely on variance to take something out. There's no shortage of it in this format.
This card's cute and all, but Smash to Dust was just printed in Dominaria United. I'm guessing this was meant to be some sort of creep to Smash to Dust since Unfinity got delayed, but if you want this sort of thing, just play that instead.
And there you have it, two more releases' worth of cards for Pauper. Admittedly, I think this run of cards is going to have substantially less impact compared to a normal group of releases. There's still plenty to do with that we've gotten, though, and I look forward to seeing what people do with these new cards! I know I for one am particularly stoked to see what happens to Infect now that Embiggen has entered the picture. It'll be really sweet to see what of these cards actually ends up truly making an impact - if even just for jokes - in the coming weeks.
The Brothers' War previews start in just a few short weeks, so I'll be back before you know it with another review soon enough. In the meantime, what are you most excited to play with from these two new sets?