With the preview season for Dominaria United over, it's time for the review season here at Cards Realm, and I'll be starting it talking about one of my favorite formats: Pauper.
The whole cycle of "pseudo-Affinity for something" is very interesting to the format, and some could be better executed, or work with less predictable mechanics, which isn't the case with Argivian Phalanx.
The white drop of the cycle is decent, as a 4/4 for one or two mana is a relevant cost which provides a good clock for Token or White Weenie decks, but in such an interactive Metagame as today, it seems difficult to get to cast it for less than , and a 4/4 with no immediate impact for three mana is minimally questionable.
It sounds good in theory, but I suppose in practice there will be more times when you won't be able to play it cheaply than the other way around for it to be impactful enough.
Dominaria United abounds in decent cards with modular effects, and Benalish Sleeper is a great example of that, but with such a small creature intensive Metagame and where the card switches and dies against many of them, I don't think it has much potential in Pauper.
In fact, I'm more interested in this creature in Standard than I am in any other format.
Now, we just need common Planeswalkers, right?
Destroy Evil is an interesting tech against Affinity, as it deals with Myr Enforcer or Makeshift Munitions as per your need and also destroys some Walls, or things with a higher toughness like Palace Sentinels. It's another great example of a modal card, and might be worth some testing on the Sideboard if you want a comprehensive answer.
I don't think Academy Wall has that much room in Ghostly Flicker decks because it performs worse in the loop aspect than Sea Gate Oracle or Mulldrifter since you would always have to target it and Mnemonic Wall / Archaeomancer for its trigger to work over and over again, but a 0/5 body blocks many things, so maybe it deserves a slot somewhere.
Honorable mention, as I imagine situations where casting this spell in a grindy game with Kicker is a tremendous card advantage that significantly reduces the opponent's resources.
Five mana on Sorcery-Speed makes me a bit skeptical, but Probe has seen play in the past, so maybe Phyrexian Espionage might find a home.
Honorable mention for being a one mana faerie.
This one definitely doesn't outperform Faerie Seer and I think Faerie Miscreant's extra draw is better than a manafixing, but you never know when you'll need to resort to twelve 1-cost flying threats, and this card is superior to Zephyr Sprite.
Slip out the Back came out as uncommon in Streets of New Capenna, and made a huge difference to archetypes like Mono Blue Spirits in Pioneer, so I'm crediting Shore Up as a combat trick and protection potential for Mono Blue Faeries, or some Delver variant, or Izzet Fiend, or any other Blue-Based Tempo that comes out in the future.
I plan to test a few copies of it on Mono Blue, as this Instant seems solid enough to be worth its mana investment on Pauper.
The most discussed card on the set, and do you remember when I made a Pauper Wishlist at the end of 2020, and it contained Cryptic Serpent?
Tolarian Terror protects itself in a very mana-intensive Metagame, provides a good clock, a low-cost finisher for blue decks that don't want to resort to Gurmag Angler, and you can cast multiple copies of it with the right number of spells in your graveyard.
However, if we look at its cons, it reduces its cost only with Instants and Sorceries, thus being an easy target for graveyard interactions, like Bojuka Bog or Relic of Progenitus, and it's much harder to play around these hates running it — which begs the question: is Tolarian Terror worth running over Gurmag Angler?
Depends, which archetype are we talking about? In the case of Faeries, I would never trade Angler for Tolarian Terror, since we have a very high number of creatures that can serve to feed your cast, in addition to the obvious interactions with Evolving Wilds or Ash Barrens, but if we're talking about a deck with fewer creatures and more spells, like a Delver of Secrets list, playing it becomes more feasible since you naturally want more low-cost spells, although I consider Delver as a creature to be a horrendous option on the 2022 Pauper.
I'm also a big fan of the idea of exploring an Izzet Prowess/Izzet Fiend tactic a bit more with Tolarian Terror functioning as an extra, less conditional threat which also does massive damage alongside Temur Battle Rage, or on the Serpentine Curve lists as an extra threat, as most of the list already unconditionally focuses on playing with a high amount of Instants and Sorceries, and manages to reach Late-Game well enough to play around the graveyard hate.
Overall, I rate Tolarian Terror as the best card in the set, and Dominaria United's most interesting option for building decks and testing old and new ideas again.
Honorable mention if a player needs more than four copies of Blightning — even though Aggressive Sabotage costs four mana to achieve the same result.
In lists with Nylea's Presence or that manage to have several land types in play, Shadow Prophecy works almost like a Dig Through Time, becoming a compelling effect for Pauper.
I don't know if we have the ideal home for this card right now, but it's this kind of spell that turns a bad archetype into something powerful, consistent, and capable of playing on par with other of the format's best decks.
I suppose if I wanted a -2/-2 removal, I'd probably go for Disfigure or Moment of Craving, or Grasp of Darkness, but Tribute to Urborg deserves an honorable mention for the possibility of appearing in a Teachings list or any other "full Control" archetype, if they come back at some point.
As far as I know, Urborg Repossession is the first card to return permanents to your hand in Pauper, and the potential to return a creature and anything else you want from your graveyard for three mana might be important to Jund or Golgari decks that spawn occasionally in Leagues.
Also, recurring a Tortured Existence and Golgari Brownscale, or any other creature with Urborg Repossession is also an interesting option for less competitive scenarios.
I have a hard time evaluating this creature because it looks both great and terrible: a 5/5 for one mana is excellent, especially with Deathtouch, but it requires at least four or five creatures in your graveyard to start being worth its cost in format, and which archetype can consistently execute this plan to the point where it is superior to Gurmag Angler?
Of course, this one's pretty decent for TortEx, or self-mill strategies that rely on creatures, but outside those archetypes, where is Writhing Necromass really worth its cost in a normal game?
I've seen a lot of hype about Writhing Necromass, and I can't keep up with the potential that some are seeing in it.
Instant-Speed removal for the opponent's Kiln Fiend that also pumps Monastery Swiftspear on its own seems like a decent option on Mono Red Blitz's Sideboard.
Flowstone Infusion also handles some problematic threats that appear occasionally, such as River Boa.
Ghitu Amplifier competes directly with Festival Crasher, and even in Izzet versions, I think it's worse, as you hardly want to pay five mana to have a 1/2 that bounces another creature.
That said, it adds another "Fiend" to the Blitz lists, and another that grows with +2/+0, making it a useful option to play alongside the other threats in the deck, if there is room for it.
I think a card like Heroic Reinforcements could be interesting in Pauper today, and Keldon Strike Team is close to that, albeit noticeably worse.
I like the idea of creating two tokens and a creature with Haste for five mana, and I could imagine a few occasions where it could be useful, but this card also seems too slow for Pauper today.
If we start to see Domain decks growing, Meria's Outrider is a 4/4 Reach with a Tribal Flames attached to it that can be cast for free with Boarding Party or Annoyed Altisaur. Therefore, it has a lot of potential within that specific archetype.
I know, it can be cast for one mana if you play two spells with a Kiln Fiend in play, but shouldn't you be winning the game by the time you can do that?
I like the idea of this creature, I believe there may still be a home for it, but Mono Red Blitz or any other Red-Based Aggro doesn't seem like that place, and the fact that it dodges Cascade costs doesn't make it promising in Big Mana either.
Honorable mention for being a very elegant design against several archetypes of the format: Faeries, Elves, Moggwarts, Affinity, Synthesizer and Walls.
Although probably slow at Sorcery-Speed, Smash to Dust does a lot for a reasonable cost, making it extremely flexible and worthy of a few Sideboard slots to reduce the space needed for more linear answers.
A Foundry Street Denizen in green is an interesting addition to look for a more "go wide" version of Stompy, alongside cards like Burning-Tree Emissary, Nest Invader and other drops from that offer more than one body in play — but while the new addition has the potential to reignite interest in the archetype, I think it will still struggle to keep up with Mono Red Blitz or Affinity.
Llanowar Stalker is also an elf, but I suppose Elvish Vanguard already works well enough in that slot.
Speaking of Elves, Vineshaper Prodigy is an interesting choice: it offers an Anticipate with a body for four mana in an archetype that has no trouble adding blue mana to pay the Kicker.
Being findable with Lead the Stampede and Winding Way, I believe players can try out a few copies of this new card to increase the amount of filtering and card selection available in the deck.
The worst creature in the cycle, paying up to three mana for a 4/6 doesn't seem worth it when Matca Rioters already exists in Pauper.
Meteorite has been downshifted, and despite its high cost, it offers some good interactions with Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall if you reduce the Instant's cost to one mana, as this artifact can be tapped for blue while also dealing 2 damage to any target with its ETB, creating an infinite damage loop.
If at some point Flicker Tron is relevant again, I can also imagine moments where this artifact becomes a means of controlling the board and working as a wincondition with that same interaction.
A tutor for Defender significantly increases the consistency of a deck trying to win the game with Axebane Guardian and Freed from the Real/Galvanic Alchemist.
With Shield-Wall Sentinel, you can choose to fetch Axebane Guardian in the first few turns with Overgrown Battlement or, if you already have available mana and/or Axebane Guardian in game, you have a multitude of other options: Drift of Phantasms to then fetch Freed from the Real, or if you already have infinite mana, Drift of Phantasm to fetch Valakut Invoker, or fetch Secret Door to win the game, among other possibilities.
This card doesn't solve some of the inherent problems Walls has that keep it from the Metagame today, but it does add a new line of consistency that helps it get back into the format at some point.
Cave of Temptation saw a lot of play on Tron during its reign, and in a Control strategy like its variants at the time, Scry 1 is more important than a late-game power boost.
Like Meteorite, I can imagine that if Tron ever returns to format, Crystal Grotto will probably make it to the list.
Despite not being on the same level as Snow Duals for not interacting with Skred, the new Duals with basic land types open up new alternatives for players who prefer not to run a snow manabase, or who have no reason to opt for it.
In a general context, they probably won't replace Bridges or Kaldheim lands, but they increase the flexibility of decks that use spells like Snuff Out or Utopia Sprawl, even increasing their consistency in accessing colors and land types, and this makes them useful in the format, as some snow lands are at a relatively high price.
That's all for today.
Overall, I don't think Dominaria United will be as impactful as a Master Set for Pauper, but it definitely brought plenty of interesting cards that deserve a test in their respective decks, and cards like Tolarian Terror, Shadow Prophecy, Llanowar Stalker and Shield-Wall Sentinel are strong enough to cause some Metagame changes.
But my favorite part of the set when it comes to the commons is the amount of flexible options available in it, like Smash to Dust or Destroy Evil, and if that becomes a standard in future releases, we might have a Pauper with increasingly comprehensive sideboard slots.
Thanks for reading!
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