Pauper Set Review: Kamigawa Neon Dynasty

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Pauper Set Review: Kamigawa Neon Dynasty

02/08/22 Comment regular icon0 comments

In today's article, let's delve deeper into what Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty brings for Pauper.

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By Romeu

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translated by Romeu

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revised by Tabata Marques

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Now that the spoiler season over, it's time to assess the potential of the new set,

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

, through the perspective of the most diverse competitive and casual formats, and today I'll be presenting you my

Pauper

analysis.

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty & Pauper

I noticed an interesting pattern in the new set: the way in which, unlike usual for Standard releases, the power level was diluted between all rarities, instead being mostly focused on rares and mythic, and this brings a very promising perspective for Neon Dynasty and upcoming releases, as it expands their potential to formats connected to rarity to define their legality, as is the case with Pauper.

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This decision to make commons and uncommons more relevant and to dilute the power level to make room for more impactful cards in different formats to be released in these slots seemed to be an initiative that, I hope, will be repeated in the next releases, both for expanding the possibility of increasingly relevant inclusions appearing in Pauper, and being a healthy way to manage the game in other competitive formats, mainly Standard in Magic Arena, where the relentless search for rare and mythic wildcards to complete decks makes it much less attractive for the average player (and not everyone has the patience or time to grind 30 or more drafts). We have more cards in this Pauper review than usual for a Standard-focused set, and it's possibly even longer than my Modern Horizons II review, if we disregard the Artifact Duals, which gives me a spark of hope as to what comes next in 2022. However, I need to clarify that many of the cards that will be mentioned here will not specifically change Pauper's course. While we have a comparable amount of mentions in this review to Modern Horizons II, the impact of many of these new cards won't come close to what last year's premium set did. This doesn't mean they are

bad

, but rather that Pauper's Metagame, like any other competitive format, is well established and few cards in this set seem to have the potential to significantly alter the Metagame, especially when some of the most important enter precisely in archetypes that are already among the top decks today. But Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty brings a lot of room for experimentation, effects that have never existed before in the format and many cards that are highly flexible or at a power level comparable to what we usually see in a premium product. And that, on its own, is reason enough to celebrate.

White

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We start the review with a flexible card that allows you to increase the power of one of your creatures, or protect it by returning it to your hand. I don't think Light the Way has enough potential to break into Heroic decks, but it deserves an honorable mention for being useful in both strategies that the archetype needs to be efficient.
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I've seen some people getting hyped up with this card on social media, and despite its wonderful illustration, Lucky Offering looks like a downgraded version of Fragmentize, and the fact that it doesn't handle enchantments means it isn't good enough to deserve a slot against Burn.
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He's a good boy.

White finally gets another decent, unconditional draw effect with Spirited Companion. The fact that it's an enchantment can create some relevant implications for its inclusion in decks like Heroic (since it increases Ethereal Armor and improves Karametra's Blessing automatically), but Spirited Companion looks much better to me as a support for Midrange. If Boros Monarch and other archetypes that bet on interactions with Kor Skyfisher were still good enough to maintain card advantage in Pauper, I'd say the new creature could be a viable option for these decks.

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Another place where the white Elvish Visionary might get some attention is in non-blue variants of Ephemerate decks, like Mardu Wildfire, to compensate for the absence of Augur of Bolas.

Blue

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We've seen the rise of some Blue-Based Affinity in the format, particularly the Dimir Affinity variants that seek to pilot the archetype as if it were a less fragile Dimir Delver. Although these lists run Counterspell, I can see a possibility where Disruption Protocol enters the list as copies 5-6, in addition to being able to imagine scenarios where Disruption Protocol is included in other Blue-Based artifact decks.
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Stifle effects coming out as common wasn't something I expected from Neon Dynasty. However, Mirrorshell Crab comes to the format as a unique ability for the format and at a reasonable cost. In Pauper, there are several abilities that become extremely relevant due to the absence of ways to deal with them. Some examples include: Monarch, Spellstutter Sprite, Storm, ETB of cards like Mnemonic Wall, Cascade, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, among hundreds of other options that can now have an effective answer. There are many decks that may make good use of the new creature on their sideboard as the format needs it, but I think the biggest winners of its arrival is Cascade Walls because Mirrorshell Crab can be found with Lead the Stampede, in addition to having no problem at having seven mana available to cast it, it might also be found on archetypes that can take advantage of its Channel ability to reanimate it with cards like Late to Dinner or Exhume, as a 5/7 with Ward 3 for four mana is a threat on its own. Tron may also benefit from the new creature if players find efficient ways to make it work after Bonder's Ornament and Prophetic Prism were banned, as it will commonly be a counterspell coupled with a late-game threat. I don't think Mirrorshell Crab will become an instant-staple, but it definitely brings something entirely new to the format and can leverage archetypes that make good use of its ability and body. Therefore, I consider it the best Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty card for Pauper. I would also like to emphasize how Mirrorshell Crab makes room for yet another bastion of interactions with and against Monarch, although most of the time it will be more worthwhile to just counter the creature, but its inclusion also makes room for specific situations, like countering the Monarch trigger when taking combat damage from a creature, for example. Also, let's not forget: Mirrorshell Crab also handles Storm triggers (and can't be removed by a Duress), and I hope to see more of this kind of effect popping up in Pauper in the future.
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The direct comparison of Moonsnare Prototype is, of course, to Springleaf Drum, and while Lorwyn's artifact is much more useful in fixing the mana of archetypes that runs it, the new Neon Dynasty card is more flexible on decks that are more interested in just speeding up mana and having a better topdeck.

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Here, we can go back again to the Blue-Based variants of Affinity, which have a more solid and consistent manabase to the point where maybe they have room to include Moonsnare Prototype to speed up the casting of heavier spells like Gearseeker Serpent, while its Tempo Deck nature can benefit from Channel to occasionaly deal with any troublesome permanents or mess up the opponent's attack and block math. However, five mana is a lot for an effect that won't always be very relevant in a format where so many decks tries to abuse ETB effects, and I'm not so sure that such flexibility justifies its inclusion, as the artifact requires colored mana and produces colorless mana.
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Courier's Capsule, as far as I know, never saw much play on Pauper, and Mnemonic Sphere is an improved version of this artifact. However, the possibility of being able to discard it to draw a card for just one mana makes it a reasonable option for some specific strategies. A critical point about Mnemonic Sphere is that it, like other cards in the set, is a great enabler for Delirium as it doesn't require many additional costs to be taken to the graveyard, making it a solid option to have the 'artifact' type. But Pauper, as of today, doesn't have enough good elements (except for Unholy Heat, a great removal that deals with pretty much every creature present in the format currently) to justify a Delirium theme, unless it's through a side effect of what a deck already tends to do for other reasons, as in the case of Modern, where cards like Mishra's Bauble are naturally played for their endless interactions with fetchlands, Lurrus, Fatal Push, among others. Unfortunately, except for the removal mentioned above, no common with the Delirium mechanic is really good. Maybe a future release might change that? With so many things that can be discarded through Channel and so many multiple card types in Neon Dynasty's permanents, I can imagine a return of Delirium in Streets of New Capenna or The Brothers War.
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Having a split looting effect and a 2/3 Flying body in the long run might be relevant at some point, but The Modern Age is being mentioned as possibly the only Saga released with enough potential for Pauper, although I'm not sure where that enchantment could fit.
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Moon-Circuit Hacker is probably the most talked about card for Pauper in Neon Dynasty, as it is half a Ninja of the Deep Hours for half the cost, but with significant pros and cons in a direct comparison. My take on the new blue ninja is most likely unpopular because I don't see it as an automatic inclusion in most Blue-Based Decks as we know them today, basically because it doesn't offer

card advantage

like its predecessor, but

card filtering

, that is, it allows you to filter your resources by replacing bad cards with better ones, like a late-game land for a removal. However, the Dimir and Izzet variants of Faeries are, in their current composition,

midrange

decks with some Tempo plays that allow you to start ahead in the match, and card advantage becomes more important because the game tends to extend and this is where the number of resources you accumulate makes the real difference, to the point where we've seen it adopt elements like Monarch to establish this advantage over the course of the game (and improve the matchup against its natural predators), while top manipulation is achieved through cantrips and Faerie Seer and, in this current composition, I can't imagine this creature gaining so much space in the two-color versions.

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Moon-Circuit Hacker is a Tempo card, and its advantage over Ninja of the Deep Hours is due to the speed and resources needed to use it. For example, a Faerie Seer on turn 1, with Moon-Circuit Hacker on turn 2 is much more powerful when you have a Force Spike or Spell Pierce to protect it from removals or punish their turn 2 play, while establishing an early card advantage and still managing to filter the top and deal some extra damage the next turn. In other words, the best shell for the most controversial Neon Dynasty card is

Mono Blue Faeries

, which carries the essence of a Tempo Deck in its purest form to the point it abdicates Azure Fleet Admiral, for example, in exchange for mana efficiency, and where Faerie Miscreant is commonly played as an additional one-drop, and where Moon-Circuit Hacker can replace one of the worst creatures the archetype still runs: Delver of Secrets (and I never imagined the day would come where I would say that Delver is bad at Pauper). I'm not saying it'll never see play in the Dimir and Izzet variants: the new ninja has significant advantages compared to Ninja of the Deep Hours, such as being easier to set early pressure, and a 3-1 split or even using it as copies 5-6 of Ninjas are viable options, depending on the Metagame, but the more attrition and card advantage oriented lists probably establishes their game better through Deep Hours + Monarch. It's also worth noting that Moon-Circuit Hacker is much easier to cast than Ninja of the Deep Hours, a point to consider when it comes to keeping a creature in play with Counterspell backup. But if you've already reached that point in the game where you need to cast a Ninja, chances are you already have enough mana to do the same with Ninja of the Deep Hours. In short: great staple for Mono-Blue Faeries, but not that great for other variants.

Black

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In a format where Artifact Lands and X/1 creatures are a thing, Clawing Torment seems to me to be a great addition as removal against some creatures, or just as a one mana version of Curse of the Pierced Heart for aggressive archetypes, such as Black Burn.
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Pharika's Libation has seen and still sees the occasional play on Pauper in Mono-Black Devotion lists and the like, and Debt to the Kami is a nice upgrade due to situations where exiling creatures is relevant, but that doesn't seem to be the case right now.
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I've really liked this recent idea of ​​“Mind Rot with additional effect”, and Go Blank is one of the best uncommons printed in the past year. Kaito's Pursuit isn't as good, but I can imagine situations where having the opponent discard two cards and giving Menace for one or two Ninja of the Deep Hours makes a huge difference. It's most likely not good enough, but it's worth an honorable mention.
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For one mana, Okiba Reckoner Raid deals 2 damage and turns into a 2/2 Rogue with Menace, so it might have some use on archetypes like Black Burn as it sets a good long-term clock.

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Reckoner’s Bargain isn't Deadly Dispute” is an obvious statement, I suppose. This instant is good and will probably see play? Yes, but not at the level of the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms sac spell, which has become a Pauper pillar as the extra mana (and the token that generates it being an artifact) is much more important than the extra life in a large majority of occasions. Recently, we've seen Affinity lists running Costly Plunder as extra copies of Deadly Dispute, and it's obvious that Reckoner's Bargain will go into those slots and be

extremely

beneficial because one of its few bad matchups, especially for non-blue versions, are decks that can ignore it or play under, like Burn, and drawing two cards while gaining 7 life when sacrificing a Myr Enforcer or Gearseeker Serpent can be absolutely devastating, covering another weakness the deck still had. Outside Affinity, this spell is also very useful for Black-Based Midrange who can benefit from the extra life (gaining 7 life when sacrificing a Gurmag Angler is also devastating if your strategy is to deal huge chunks of damage as soon as possible), coupled with drawing two cards.
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Twisted Embrace is a removal coupled to an enchantment that increases the power of one of your creatures and increases your devotion. While we already have Oubliette as a better option on most occasions, this card's design is too specific and makes it worthy of an honorable mention.
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Ravenous Rats in the form of an artifact creature makes room for different interactions. It might not be enough for a highly competitive scene (Ravenous Rats and Liliana's Specter don't usually see much play), but it's definitely an interesting addition to Pauper.
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“Nani?!”

- Someone who is already dead

You Are Already Dead is probably not good enough for Pauper these days, despite the obvious interaction with Cuombajj Witches.

Red

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There was a time when there was a combo that involved enchanting a Bounce Land, like Dimir Aqueduct, with Wind Zendikon and Freed from the Real to make infinite mana. I tried several variations of this list for a few months to see how far it could go. One of the problems with the Izzet variants was that, despite this color combination having the best options for the combo, the enchantments that could turn Izzet Boilerworks into a creature had a very high cost, and Crackling Emergence fixes it. Times have changed, however, and in a format where many seek to combine Cleansing Wildfire with indestructible lands, a combo based on enchanting a Bounce Land no longer seems like a viable option. Other than that, I really like Crackling Emergence as a pseudo-Boggart Ram-Gang that doesn't make your manabase more susceptible to removal, and I believe there might be a slot for this enchantment in some aggressive red deck.

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I see this as one of the most powerful cards in the new Kamigawa, and probably one that will significantly boost Affinity's Rakdos and Grixis variants, but could also make its presence in other red archetypes that care about artifacts. Unlike Ichor Wellspring, Experimental Synthesizer is not the card you would like to play, sacrifice, or bounce "on the curve", but as a later turn engine where you have mana left, giving you two extra cards that turn, while also creating a body to attack/block, or an artifact to generate value with sac outlets like Makeshift Munitions and Deadly Dispute. The new red artifact is also an interesting addition to an archetype that hasn't appeared in Pauper for a while, but which could prove effective if we reformulate its base according to current the Metagame: the Kuldotha Rebirth decks, which can take advantage of Experimental Synthesizer while creating three Goblin tokens, plus the token created by the artifact if sacrificing it with its own ability improves its controller's board position and increase the clock, especially with other cards that commonly used to see play alongside these interactions.
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I don't think Kami of Industry will see much play as its cost is relatively high for its ability and body, but it does bring yet another new effect to the format in the form of returning artifacts to the battlefield for a turn. The obvious interplay is how well Ichor Wellspring can be replayed with it by turning it into a red Mulldrifter, and the possibility of using it as a recurring effect with Ephemerate and the like can generate a lot of value in the right list, as well as being able to return artifacts whose abilities can be activated, such as Wedding Invitation or Blood Fountain and Experimental Synthesizer. Perhaps, this creature deserves a slot in recent Rakdos/Mardu Metalcraft decks.
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Honorable mention, as it's been a few years since Pauper last received an instant that dealt relevant damage to both the creature and its controller for a low cost.

Green

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A 3/3 creature for two mana does an impressive job at blocking Faeries, and while Bamboo Grove Archer doesn't have enough qualities to deserve space on the maindeck or sideboard these days, I suppose it deserves a mention as a possible addition to Walls.
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NOTE

: I overlooked the fact Careful Cultivation has an infinite mana combo with Pili-Pala. Since it is a two-card combo, I see a lot of potential on what could be done with it, but neither cards are really good on its own. And since they need a third piece and a full turn with Pili-Pala to actually do something, maybe it's not good enough?
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A card selection for lands or enchantments for one mana may have some use in the no longer present Enchantress Control lists, which emerged around 2017/2018, as well as being a possibility for Auras, although I suppose Kruphix's Insight is a much better option if the idea is to replenish your resources.

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The story would be very different if Commune With Spirits could select creatures as well.
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Greater Tanuki is an uncounterable ramp and a Big Mana threat on a single card, and can be very useful for archetypes like Jund Cascade as it fulfills two functions needed for the list with a single slot. The question is what could come out to fit it in the list. Maybe Llanowar Visionary's additional draw isn't as relevant as doubling functions between ramp and threat?
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Being able to return a creature and an enchantment from your graveyard in Instant-Speed ​​can be very useful for Bogles, given how much it suffers from a lack of means to filter its draws and has a severe difficulty finding the right combination between creatures and Auras after on opponent with their first threats.
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I don't think Tamiyo's Safekeeping is good enough to replace other protective effects like Vines of Vastwood in Pauper, but I'm giving it an honorable mention because it's a naturally powerful spell that does many things for a common.

Artifacts

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Iron Apprentice is the newest incarnation of creatures that have "modular to any other creature", first seen in Star Pupil in Strixhaven. Since we're talking about a colorless creature and an artifact, its arrival in the format opens up some possibilities for decks that care about +1/+1 Counters, or sacrifice effects, like Aristocrats or Project X, since you can transfer these counters to another creature when you sacrifice it.
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With Bonder's Ornament banned, many players are looking to find a viable replacement, and as far as Tron is concerned, it's possible that Network Terminal will do a good job as it offers card filtering for the cost of two artifacts and two mana. Is this the missing element for Tron to return as a major competitor?

Probably not

, but it's another step towards creating good value-added manafixing and ramp.
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Three mana and a creature to deal three damage with a colorless source doesn't seem like a big deal, but I can see some lists opting to run a single copy of Ninja's Kunai as a possible removal that can be tutored with Trinket Mage and then replayed with Leonin Squire or Archaeomender.

Conclusion

We've reached the end of my Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty review for Pauper. Overall, I suppose the big winner of this set was Affinity, with the inclusion of several powerful artifacts and effects that interact with artifacts, as well as the inclusion of Reckoner's Bargain to improve your matchup against Aggro. Other winners include Mono-Blue Faeries, with Moon-Circuit Hacker as a card that will replace the now-obsolete Delver of Secrets, making the list even more synergistic between Ninjutsu interactions with one-drops that offer draws or top filtering. Another possible winner was the Walls Combo with the inclusion of Mirrorshell Crab as a Mana Leak that can be used alongside Lead the Stampede, and I wouldn't be surprised if other mostly creature-focused decks, like Elves, running Pauper's “Stifle” on their sideboard.

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I conclude this article by mentioning that Neon Dynasty doesn't necessarily bring elements that will drastically alter the Metagame, but new inclusions that strengthen well-established archetypes, and I suppose we will still be living in a format where Faeries and Affinity are the best decks. That said, I'm excited to see how Pauper develops over the next few weeks, and I offer my usual reminder that we should wait a few weeks or even a month before hitting the panic button, unless they evidently create an oppressive and broken archetype on their own, as was the case with Chatterstorm. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Journalism student, writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually every Magic: The Gathering competitive format and is a lifetime Final Fantasy fan.

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