Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ponyback Brigade

Today the final installment of my Khans of Tarkir set review for Standard Pauper was published over at PureMTGO. In my previous installment, I reviewed the multicolor Morph cycle at Common. I ended up rating Ponyback Brigade as the worst of the cycle, although I did assign it a borderline grade, meaning I felt it was playable but not great.

I received the following response in the comments:

Ponyback Brigade is as close to Siege-Gang Commander as Pauper will ever see, and the Efreet Weaponmaster dies to a simple Lightning Strike. In fact, I'm finding it very difficult to believe that you directly rated ("[...]the worst card in the cycle[...]") ... Do you not really grasp how powerful it is to get four bodies for one card? Midrange can use this to gum up the ground like no one's business, control can stabilise with a single card (and keep in mind that it kills in four turns on it's lonesome on an empty board against an untouched opponent), and even aggro might see some use for it postboard.

I appreciated the feedback, and promised that I would clarify my thoughts in a blogpost. So here we go.

First, let's take a look at Siege-Gang Commander, which he compared it to:

You can see why it's a fitting comparison. Siege-Gang Commander also gives you four creatures, three of which are 1/1 Goblin tokens and the other a 2/2. Siege-Gang costs one less mana, and most of the time will be easier to cast, since it only has two colored mana symbols instead of three. It also can't be played as a 2/2 for 3 early and then later flipped over at an advantageous time. 

However, the big difference is Siege-Gang's secondary ability: for 1R each, it can turn those 1/1 Goblins into Shocks at Instant speed. This is a major difference, as it takes those tokens from marginal to always relevant.

Second, let's talk about the value of a 1/1 without any abilities. Generally speaking, a 1/1 is worth somewhere between half and a third of a card. Krenko's Command gives you two such tokens for 1R at Sorcery speed. Getting three tokens at Instant speed would be very strong at 2R, and at Common is more likely to cost at least 3R (based on Captain's Call). But unless you're playing a dedicated Tokens build, most of the time a bunch of 1/1s is not going to be that relevant. Yes, they can chump-block several attacking creatures; yes, they can get in for some significant damage once or twice; but generally, this is a niche effect for a niche deck, not an all-around all-star.

So I would evaluate Ponyback Brigade (disregarding Morph for the moment), as a 2BW Captain's Call tacked onto a 2/2 creature for 1R. The total effect is nice, but for six mana with triple color requirements, even at Common we can expect more. Of course, you add Morph back into the mix, and you have a solid card, perfectly playable. But here again, the setup cost is pretty high. Hence my rating: playable, but not amazing.

What do you think?


  1. I appreciate the explanation of the card when compared to Siege Gang Commander. However, unless you also had the exact same conversation with yourself when you first wrote about it, I think you left us in the dark about YOUR choice to rate Ponyback Brigade as marginal.

    Let's agree to NOT consider other cards in non-common rarities. Wait- this new set does not have Stifle?! No, it doesn't, but I wouldn't be coming to read thoughts about Pauper Magic and expect to see discussions about rare cards, or even uncommon ones.

    In my opinion, Pauper Magic makes lemonade out of lemons- the cards at common rarity that too many disdain. I hope you won't disdain Ponyback Brigade. I have no immediate love for this card (my personal favorite from this set is Jeskai Student- he's Grapeshot on a stick), but rally to its defense after your incomplete rationale to rank so lowly. Sure, as cool as Lightning Bolt is, it has no home in MonoBlack Control decks. However, decisions to pass on a Lightning Bolt may prove foolish, later.

    What do we get with Ponyback Brigade? For starters, consider the name. I think this card was designed to be taken less serious than other cards.

    Let's consider the impact tri-colors means for things like Domain mechanics. Hi, Wandering Goblins! Thanks for walking into the club. What about other cards that show hate for other colors, like Flash of Defiance? With a Flash of Defiance, I could see many token decks shrinking in current formats, while also making things more difficult for the same current deck lists. These are just two examples from Red, needed to cast this card.

    What more can you add, beyond bouncing effects like Cloudshift, to the remaining colors needed to cast Ponyback Brigade? What about Morph effects, like Lumithread Field (a morphed Enchantment?!)? How does Ponyback Brigade become THE card around which I build a deck? If you cannot find a way, this would be disappointing. Instead, how competitive would a deck be that included this card as its staple, exploiting tri-color/domain/morph/goblin/warrior effects?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. The card's rating in the original post was the center of the discussion. Ponyback Brigade is surely an interesting build-around card in Classic Pauper, but remember the review of KtK Gwyned provides only focuses on the Standard Pauper format.
    Hence that, and waiting for the standard rotation, I also think Ponyback Brigade is playable, but not amazing. Maybe more relevant in a draft than for Constructed formats.