Ultimate Masters will be adding twenty new cards to Pauper. These cards vary wildly in power level but the highs are incredibly high and the lows are, well, Molten Birth. I tend to be a bit bullish on new cards—it’s exciting to think about potential—but this crop could live up to the hype.
Fire // Ice
Fire is not new to Pauper, as Twin Bolt has been around since Fate Reforged and has seen play. Fire is a strict upgrade in that it comes with Ice attached.
Pauper is a format where 2-for-1s are incredibly important. The format lacks reliable sweepers, so a single card that can pick off multiple threats has high value. The early stages of Pauper games also revolve around the ubiquity of Delver of Secrets and Spellstutter Sprite. While the duo are not as popular as they were at their apex, the two blue cards still see a ton of play. Twin Bolt never caught on as a way to fight these (and Faerie Miscreant) as Electrickery does a similar job and potentially do more.
This is where Ice comes in. The versatility of the blue half is hard to understate. At its absolute worst it replaces itself. It can also tap down a looming threat or clear the way for an alpha strike. It can turn off an Urza’s Tower or Dimir Aqueduct, choking mana hungry decks of their ability to interact on your turn. Speaking of Tron, these decks often rely on Prophetic Prism to cast their spells and Ice conveniently shuts that down as well, when all you need is one turn to try and turn the corner.
Prophetic Prism is also one of the biggest reasons to run Fire // Ice. The fixer sees heavy play not only in Tron builds but in Boros Monarch as well. Some Monarch pilots have taken to running a single copy of Electrickery main. Replacing that with Fire // Ice means that you have access to a completely different effect once your Prism is online. While Fire will almost always be the default mode of the card, the mere ability to cast Ice changes the way games play out.
I am not sure what the addition of Fire // Ice means for Pauper. I would love to say that it will help to keep Spellstutter Sprite down, but I’m not sure. The fact the Faerie still sees heavy play despite the sheer volume of cards that have been printed that can neutralize multiple 1-toughness creatures tells me that it is good enough to survive this new card. Still, Fire // Ice is a card of another caliber and if could help to limit the efficacy of Spellstutter Sprite.
Foil has the potential to be a game-changer. It’s no Force of Will and it doesn’t really come close, but as far as Pauper goes it isn’t going to get much better than this pitch spell. A 4-mana hard counter with a hefty alternative cost, Foil is likely to be a format staple.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. On the face of things Foil is a 3-for-1 in favor of your opponent. You are giving up three cards to potentially answer their spell. The key in this equation, however, is that one of those cards is an Island. Depending on the stage of the game, that Island could be worthless. The blue decks that are going to want Foil tend to operate on four to five lands the vast majority of the time. Given this, once a deck has reached mana stability the cost on Foil goes down significantly. And there’s nothing that says the second card can’t also be a land.
Setting aside Gush for a moment—which just so happens to put two Islands into your hand—there is a real card economy cost to using the alternate casting cost on Foil. But there is an advantage to being able to advance your board position without fear of tapping out and being caught unable to respond. Play Magic long enough and you know the risk of casting a spell into two open blue mana. Play Pauper long enough and you understand when to play around Daze. Foil changes everything in this context. Now if you are playing against someone who has Islands in their deck, you have to be ready at all times to trade your spell for three cards. If sticking a 3-drop on time is important enough in the new metagame, the Foil player can do so and maintain the threat of action.
So where does Foil fit in? It doesn’t go into every Gush deck. Tireless Tribe combo, which uses the Odyssey common and Inside Out to one-shot the opponent, needs to keep a full grip, and might want a single copy as a fail safe. Izzet Blitz, however, doesn’t need cards as much as spells. It trades Tireless Tribe/Inside Out for Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops and Temur Battle Rage. It also leverages Gush into a lethal attack but as it actually wants to cast spells, the lands returned are less useful. Giving Blitz another piece of protection during the combo turn could be important moving forward. The various Delver decks in the format also will likely adopt a few copies of Foil as the prospect of a free counterspell is enticing indeed.
Tethmos High Priest
Tethmos High Priest is an exciting card. The prospect of repeatable reanimation is alluring, and a lot of potential combo loops enabled by this hero. The one getting a lot of early press revolves around Crown of Flames, Mogg War Marshal, and Skirk Prospector. This loop will generate an unbound amount of red mana that can then either be funneled into a Rolling Thunder or used to bring back a Mogg Fanatic a similarly unbound number of times.
Whether or not the combo deck takes off, High Priest should see play. Mono-White Heroic is a deck built around getting Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Akroan Skyguard large enough to take over a game. Where the deck suffers is in the face of cards that can pick off the tokens from Cartouche of Solidarity and follow that up with Chainer’s Edict. Here, Tethmos High Priest can come in from the sideboard to rebuy a threat and help to win the attrition war. Lotus-Eye Mystics could also fit into the plan as they can get back an Ethereal Armor, but the 4-mana price tag is likely too much for Heroic to bear.
In my opinion these three are the heaviest hitters from Ultimate Masters. These are other cards that have piqued my interest:
- Canker Abomination: Some players want to put this in the Dark Ritual-Choking Sands deck as a cheap 6/6. I’m excited about potentially getting this out on turn 2 with Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl.
- Dimir Guildmage: Mono-Black Control decks often achieve mana abundance early. Being able to play this and then whittle down an opponent’s hand seems fine. In decks that run Dimir Aqueduct it can also help refuel without costing life.
- Groundskeeper: I love the prospect of looping Flame Jab or Raven’s Crime, but this seems too expensive to work at the moment.
- Moan of the Unhallowed: 4 power for 4 mana across two bodies is nice. The flashback is gravy and this could be a role player.
- Offalsnout: Another piece of graveyard hate that attacks at a slightly different angle.
- Reckless Wurm: Better than Arrogant Wurm in that red needs cheap 4/4s more than green. Red also has great madness enablers in Tormenting Voice and Faithless Looting.
- Resurrection: I am very excited about finally getting another reanimation spell in the format. I am not sure this card would see play in a straight Orzhov deck, but Mardu or Esper might be a way to go.
- Slum Reaper: This card will be a workhorse. It’s a new effect and one graveyard value decks, from Tortured Existence to Grim Harvest, have been clamoring for.
- Vessel of Endless Rest: Color fixing with incidental graveyard hate. Could be sneakily good.
So there you have it—the final Masters set for the foreseeable future is bound to shake up Pauper. And given the fact that the format is going to matter more in the Magic Online Championship Series, being able to get ahead of the curve on tech is going to matter far more. So what will your first Ultimate Pauper deck be?