Thursday, April 28, 2016

Common Reprints with Upshifted Rarity in Shadows Over Innistrad

With very little fanfare, it was decided that what I have dubbed the Standard Pauper Experiment would continue into this new season of Standard Pauper tournaments brought about by the release of Shadows Over Innistrad. Our community is continuing to test whether cards previously printed at Common but reprinted at higher rarities in Standard sets should be allowed into the format. Primarily, this is driven by the fact that both online and on the MTGO client, using the official card filtering databases returns these cards as being both Standard and Pauper legal.

With the rotation of Standard, two such cards left the format, namely Arc Lightning and Pyrotechnics, and three new cards came in: Lightning Axe, Mad Prophet, and Reckless Scholar. So today I thought I would take a quick look at these new cards and offer my thoughts on them.

1. It seems appropriate that as two burn spells rotate out, we get another one to take their place. A 5R Instant that deals 5 damage to target creature is nothing to get excited about, being comparable to both Reduce to Ashes and Sarkhan's Rage. Of course, for this card it's all about actually getting to cast it for R instead by discarding a card. And while there are plenty of ways to mitigate that cost (pitching a Land or a Madness card, for example), the effect you're getting still isn't amazing given the setup cost. At best, this is an improved Flame Slash, but one that makes you work hard for that additional value.

Verdict: Grounder - It's a strong removal spell, but it axes a lot of you.

Mad Prophet was a Common back as recently as Avacyn Restored, where it saw only occasional play. At 3R, you're paying a lot for a mere 2/2, even with Haste, and unlike other "looters" you have to discard the card before you get to draw. Obviously now this ability is potentially much better, since if you can discard a Madness card you essentially are negating the downside. It's also worth remembering that since it does have Haste, you can activate its ability right away, even if your opponent immediately targets it with removal. Overall though, I don't expect this to see much play except in a dedicated Madness build.

Verdict: Bunt - You'd be mad to predict amazing things for this card.

I've always found Reckless Scholar to be a bit of an oddball card. The extra point of Power over Merfolk Looter is a nice bonus, but the ability to use its ability on other players always struck me as strange. Nonetheless, the ability to draw and then discard a card is a slow but effective way to gain card advantage, typically worth about half a card per activation, and obviously is even better when you can activate Madness some percentage of the time. That said, Madness seems to be at its best in a more tempo oriented deck rather than straight Control, which makes it hard for this card to earn a spot. So far the Izzet decks have not included it, but perhaps that will change.

Verdict: Bunt - I hate to be reckless, but I don't think this quite gets there.

So there you have it. While Lightning Axe will probably find a spot in a few different decks, I doubt either Mad Prophet or Reckless Scholar will make much of an impact.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


If you read my set review for Shadows Over Innistrad, you know that I was not impressed with Delirium as a mechanic, simply because the payoff never seemed to materialize. Nonetheless, after reading some about the Limited environment, I decided to assemble a Delirium centered deck anyway just to see what it would look like. While I believe the archetype could probably support three colors, I didn't see much incentive to go beyond Green and Black, so that's what I stuck with. After some testing, this is the build I ended up playing in MPDC 33.01:

My strategy was to enable Delirium as quickly as possible, primarily through Vessel of Nascency and Crow of Dark Tidings. Dead Weight, Evolving Wilds, and Vial of Dragonfire are also cheap drops that get these card types into the Graveyard while also playing into the deck's long-term strategy: survive the early game with cheap removal and consistently play Lands so you can get your more expensive creatures out as early as possible. Moldgraf Scavenger is the obvious reward for getting Delirium activated early, and as an 0/4 for 1G, it also does a great job keeping you alive in the early game. Pulse of Murasa and Macabre Waltz allow you to draw from your Graveyard, with the former also going a long way to prolonging the game. While getting Kessig Dire Swine intop play is obviously quite strong, the real power of the deck is recurring Undead Servant again and again, daring your opponent to trade with it and then generating multiple Zombie tokens when it comes back into play. Finally, both Merciless Resolve and Stoic Builder help generate card advantage, the latter by consistently pulling Evolving Wilds and Warped Landscape from your Graveyard to thin out the Lands remaining in your Library and giving you consistent Land drops every turn.

Despite my game plan, I wasn't very confident that the deck was very good. But I ended up going 3-0 in Swiss before the inevitable loss in Top 8. Still, the deck performed much better than I expected, and I suspect that there may actually be something to this build. This particular color combination also ended up being very popular. It was represented by five different players, and we all ended up making Top 8. And with some significant variety among those five decks, there is definitely room for some innovation and improvement.

If you've got thoughts on the GB archetype in general or on my build as a whole, I'd appreciate you leaving them in the comments below. Also, don't forget that tomorrow is the deadline to signup for the Pauper Ravnica Unified League. Don't miss out!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pauper Ravnica Unified League

As promised in my last post, today I want to spend a little bit of time talking about the upcoming Pauper Ravnica Unified League. This free event, hosted by Polyjak, is a Pauper Constructed format league where all of the Commons from both the original Ravnica block and the Return to Ravnica block are legal. Each week, you play up to five matches against other players participating in the league using a legal deck and submit your results. The player with the best record each week walks away with a prize, and at the end of the five weeks, prizes are also awarded based on your overall performance in the league as a whole. Polyjak has created a great website with all the information, but here are the highlights:

1. Signup here no later than Wednesday, April 27th.
2. League runs for five weeks, with the deck construction rules changing each week, gradually increasing from a 40 card Singleton to 60 card Constructed.
3. Each week you are on your own to find other players and play out your matches, and you can't play the same person twice in the same week. Use the #PDC channel to find other players, and report all results at this link.
4. You are also encouraged to use this PDCMagic forum thread to discuss the event with others players.

Now then, it must be said that this is quite the Constructed challenge. The original Ravnica block was created long before the New World Order philosophy guided the printing of Commons, so there's a surprising amount of complexity in that block. And while the Return to Ravnica block should be more familiar to my readers, the last expansion for it called Dragon's Maze was released almost three years ago - which is a long time in term's of Magic sets! So today I thought I would leave you with some resources to help you get back up to speed on these two blocks:

1. A Primer on Ravnica, City of Guilds Limited, from Limited Resources.
2. A List of the Top 10 Commons from the original Ravnica block, from StarCityGames.
3. The Gatherling metagame entries from APDC Season 2, which was original Ravnica Block Common Constructed.
4. Breaking Down Return to Ravnica Limited, from StarCityGames.
5. The Top 11 Commons from Gatecrash, from PureMTGO.
6. The Top Commons from Dragon's Maze, from ChannelFireball.

I hope you find those resources helpful! And if you have some you'd like to add to the list, leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Brief Update

For those of you who check here regularly, you're already aware that I was unable to blog last week due to a sudden ailment diagnosed as Labyrinthitis (swelling of the fluid-filled tubes and sacs in the ears), resulting in very bad vertigo and nausea. While I'm not out of the woods yet, I am happy to report that I am doing much better - meaning that I can actually go to work or sit upright in front of a computer without too much discomfort. Thanks to everyone who reached out to me to express their wishes for a speedy recovery.

There's a surprising amount of things I feel like I need to address. But rather than trying to pick one, I thought I would just give a quick update of a few timely matters and take more time later this week addressing some of these in more detail.

1. Monday Pauper Deck Challenge

As far as MPDC goes, we will have Season 33 as normal, beginning next Monday, April 25th, at 2pm EDT / 6pm GMT in #mpdc. While I still suspect that moving to some sort of league-style event is the best course for the future, it's not a change that I'm ready to make quite yet. More about this soon.

2. Update to Standard Pauper Card Legality

While the other two co-hosts of our community's Standard Pauper events have not officially conferred yet, given the state of things I anticipate that no changes will be made this season regarding whether or not Standard Uncommons previous printed at Common will be Standard Pauper legal. In other words, for the time being, these cards will continue to be legal, just like last season. There are a number of issues here to discuss, which I hope to do sometime soon.

3. Pauper Ravnica Unified League

During the last few weeks, Polyjak oversaw the Zendikar Unified Pauper Sealer League, which in my estimation was a big success. Starting on April 27th, a similar league will launch, this time as a Pauper Ravnica Unified League. Polyjak, along with several other notable players in our community, have worked very hard to create something well worth participating in. I plan on playing in this one and will once again be donating prizes, so I definitely encourage all my readers to join the fun. More about this soon. (are you noticing a trend?)

4. Standard Pauper Set Review for Shadows Over Innistrad

There is at least one thing I did manage to complete despite my illness. My full set review of Shadows Over Innistrad is available from PureMTGO. You can find Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here. I won't rehash my final comments from Part Three, but on the whole while I feel like the set is going to be good as far as gameplay goes, I'm not sure how successful it was in recapturing the feel of Innistrad. Anyway, I encourage you to read and comment.

I think that's all for now. My plan is to have a special Saturday post this week to help make up for not writing last week, and of course I'll be back on Thursday as well. Thanks as always for reading and being a part of our great Standard Pauper community.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Short Break from Blogging Due to Illness

Yesterday I was diagnosed with Labyrinthitis (swelling of the fluid-filled tubes and sacs in the ears). I have had hearing loss and slight ringing/static in left ear for several days now. Yesterday I woke up with extreme vertigo. I couldn't even sit up without triggering severe nausea. I was able to see my doctor in the afternoon and got some meds prescribed, although the appointment was very unpleasant. Ears and nose did not look infected. No other symptoms like fever or congestion.

Most of the time I am okay if I am flat on my back, but I have been able to tolerate sitting for very short periods. Just walking to bathroom and back is very hard. And even on meds, worst of the symptoms can last a week on average, slowly improving after that.

So based on all that, I've decided to take a short break from blogging. Once I can reliably sit and stand, I'll gladly get back to it.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Future of MPDC

This past Monday, I was sitting online once again, watching as the same dozen or so players slowly filtered into the #MPDC channel and registered for our weekly event. I hate to sound an old timer, but it's hard for me not to reflect on the days when this event was drawing 40+ players every week. In fact, we just barely had enough players to make the 8 person minimum for the event, and only because someone who was planning on playing was willing to jump in to make sure it happened.

After reflecting on this trend, I sent out the following Email to everyone who participated in the Standard Pauper Double League - over 60 players in all:

You are receiving this E-mail because you participated in the Standard Pauper Double League. As I mentioned at pdcmagic earlier this week, I am seriously considering changing our weekly Standard Pauper tournament to a recurring league-style event, where pairings are played out at each person's convenience rather than everyone having to show up at a particular time and place.

With our weekly attendance averaging only around a dozen players, it's clear that most of you don't participate in this event. Back when I did my survey, it did seem like the most common reason for a lack of participation was simply how hard it was to make any particular time and day of the week work for a majority of players.

If we were to make this change to MPDC, would you be interested in participating in such an event long term? And if so, would you be willing to play out multiple matches in a week? How often would you like the league to end, award prizes, and then start up again?

As I consider this change, your feedback is very important to me. I would love to facilitate as many people as possible playing Standard Pauper on a weekly basis, and maybe this is the best way for that to happen. I'd love to hear back from each and every one of you, even if it's just to say that you wouldn't really be interested.
Thanks for reading.

I've already heard back from over a dozen players, and for the most part the response has been fairly positive. It does appear that running a league-style event is much better for many people who remain interested in Standard Pauper. 

That said, there are still several details that would need to be worked out:
  1. What is a reasonable number of matches to expect people to play in a week?
  2. How often would the league reset - only once Standard rotated, or once a new set was released, once every four weeks, or something else?
  3. How would the event be organized - using a spreadsheet like the recent Zendikar Unified Sealed League, using the built-in tournament software on Gatherling, or something else entirely?
  4. Would the league feed into some sort of in-person event, like a Top 8 or something similar?
Now I certainly don't want to give the impression that my mind is made up yet. However, I certainly see the advantages of moving from a weekly event to a league-style approach. Sure, it has its disadvantages. But on the whole, they might just outweigh the disadvantages.

If you've got an opinion on the matter, I'd love to hear it. Drop me an email at gwyned at gmail dot com, or reply in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Farewell, Common Duals

As was pointed out to me in the comments section of my previous post, I neglected to call attention to the fact that the Khans Common Dual Lands are about to rotate out of Standard, leaving the format without multicolored lands for the first time since Return to Ravnica. This will obviously have a major impact on what types of decks are viable in the format. Without access to reliable color-fixing, it will be unusual to see decks with three or more colors of cards. And given that such decks have performed well over the past few seasons of our weekly Standard Pauper Player Run Events, it will be interesting to see if this pushes the metagame away from Control once more.

Additionally, with this type of Dual Lands being rarity shifted back to Uncommon in Shadows Over Innistrad, there is the potential that this may not be a temporary situation, but a return to the baseline environment at Common from the more recent color intensive sets. This would be unfortunate, as reliable mana fixing not only allows players access to more colors, but also makes aggressive decks more consistent and thus better able to compete against Control strategies, which in my opinion is more healthy for the format. We shall see.

In the mean time, what Land-based color fixing will exist going into Shadows Over Innistrad? Evolving Wilds will still be available, as will a close variant from Shadows called Warped Landscape, which costs 2 to sacrifice and fetch any Basic Land but also taps for colorless immediately. We also have Crumbling Vestige, which only taps for colorless save for the turn it comes into play, when it adds any single color of mana to your pool. There is also Unknown Shores, which only creates colorless but can essentially filter any mana already in your pool from one color to another. And of course there is Holdout Settlement, which works on a similar basis but demands that you tap a creature rather than another mana source. Finally, Fertile Thicket deserves an honorable mention. While it doesn't actually fix your Lands directly, it does let you search among the next five cards in your library for one basic Land to put on top of your library while returning the other cards to the bottom of your library.

Obviously none of these are anywhere close to the ease and convenience of the Common Duals. Just how good they are will have to be tested before any firm conclusions can be drawn. But it's safe to say the format will definitely look very different.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Farewell to the Clans, Part Two

Last time, I talked about how with the upcoming release of Shadows Over Innistrad that Standard will be rotating soon, with some very significant Commons from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged leaving the format forever. This shift will drastically change the Standard Pauper format, and so I wanted to dedicate my blog posts this week to looking at what I believe are the six cards whose loss will have the biggest impact in the format. I already discussed Disdainful Stroke, Gurmag Angler, and Hooting Mandrills. Today, I'll look at the other three.

4. Jeskai Sage is another card that looked fairly innocuous when it was released, but proved to be a major cornerstone of an archetype in the format. In the right deck, it typically will attack as a 2/2 thanks to Prowess, and is a particularly strong target for combat tricks. But best of all, you can trade it off with your opponent's creatures without regret, since upon death it immediately cycles for a brand new card. That's built-in card advantage for an already decent card, and in a format where every little edge counts, it's little wonder that this little card proved to be such a gem.

5. While White has somewhat fallen out of favor, Sandsteppe Outcast is the perfect card for any White Weenie or similar archetype. For your three mana you get three points worth of Power, which most of the time you will want to split up into two creatures, one of which gets Flying. The fact that the card also had the Warrior subtype was another important boon to this card's versatility and power. Given the Spirit synergy in Shadows Over Innistrad it's a shame to see this go, as it would have been right at home in the new metagame. As is, this card will continue to live on in its color-shifted cousins Eldrazi Skyspawner and Ghirapur Gearcrafter.

6. In this case I definitely saved the best for last. Treasure Cruise turned out to be one of the more broken Commons to see print in recent times, thanks primarily to how routine it was to fill up your graveyard and cast this for half its cost or less. In fact, it's so good that it ended up being banned in Modern, Legacy, and Pauper. This card alone made it almost always worth your while to play Blue, and if so you always wanted the full four copies in your deck. While I still don't think it should have been banned in Standard Pauper, I know many players will be happy to see it go.

And so those are my top picks from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged that will be leaving the format with the release of Shadows Over Innistrad. Other honorable mentions include Feat of Resistance, Mardu Hordechief, Elusive Spellfist, Sultai Emissary, Whirlwind Adept, and Whisk Away. One thing is for sure - Standard Pauper will look quite different in just a few short weeks!