Now that every card in War of the Spark is known we can get into the business of prognostication. Despite being full of powerful commons, nothing in the latest set is positioned to have a massive impact at the top of the metagame. Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty will surely eat its fair share of Gurmag Anglers but other than that, the cards are narrow.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Often, fringe decks need access to one or two narrow cards before they can take that next step. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the decks on the outside of the Pauper metagame that could be bolstered by the release of War of the Spark.
I have been on a sacrifice kick as of late. While Pauper lacks the same payoffs as Aristocrats builds in other formats—that is, cheap payoffs that trigger when a creature dies—we are rapidly approaching a critical mass of cards that could push the strategy toward being competitive. While there aren’t any Blood Artist cards in War of the Spark, there is plenty of fodder thanks to amass.
Amass provides an interesting option for Carrion Feeder decks. On the surface these cards provide the ability to pump a creature twice. This matters for burst damage with Bloodthrone Vampire and the like. But the ability to grow an already existing Zombie army provides the option for a pseudo-Mortician Beetle. Once a token has been amassed, any amass bonuses will then be added to that token provided it is still on the battlefield.
Grim Initiate and Lazotep Reaver strike me as the best creatures with amass. They are cheap enough and have a body that is appropriate for their mana cost. Grim Initiate also helps to give red Aristocrats decks a solid 1-drop that has synergy with Carrion Feeder. Lazotep Reaver can provide two bodies immediately for 2 mana, which black has not had before. Importantly, the Reaver creates two Zombies, which can matter for decks based around that.
Aven Eternal and Callous Dismissal are interesting in that they provide options for an Aristocrats strategy in blue. Blue has access to another 1-drop in Cloudfin Raptor, which wants to be paired with a lot of creatures. It also has a few natural sacrifice outlets, such as Sidisi’s Faithful. Aven Eternal not only grows Raptor twice but it can also provide fodder for the Faithful. Callous Dismissal provides something this deck desperately wants—a piece of disruption with a creature attached. While it would take a lot for a blue-black deck to upend Dimir Delver, these represent a few pieces that could be the seed of something new.
Spark Reaper looks like it could see some play. The body is reasonable, and Pauper does not currently have the ability to turn creatures into life and cards. 3 mana is a steep cost and means that this wants to come down on turn 6. There are much better things you can be doing on the sixth turn of a game of Pauper. Still, this one remains an interesting option out of the sideboard of a creature deck for attrition-based matchups.
Arbor Elf Decks
Back when Cloudpost was legal, one of the best strategies you could employ in Pauper was a mono-green Cloudpost deck that featured land destruction. Reap and Sow was a game-breaker, and being able to jump the curve into Ulamog’s Crusher was big game. UrzaTron does not provide the same potential as the number of slots dedicated to colorless lands makes it hard to hit green on the proper turns. The Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl engine, however, is legal in Pauper and sees very little play. While Tron might be a better strategy for control decks, the Arbor Elf engine is better at setting up Thermokarst and kin. The problem is that these decks find themselves in topdeck mode and have no way to dig toward game-ending threats. Vivien’s Grizzly could help.
Vivien’s Grizzly turns the excess mana these ramp decks produce into card filtering. By the time you are able to activate the Grizzly you likely have an abundance of mana and have destroyed enough of your opponent’s lands that you just need to end the game. Digging past lands and spells, and toward creatures can turn your abundance into an advantage. Green has had to lean on Lead the Stampede for card advantage as of late but that card is at its best with a high density of creatures. While Grizzly also wants a ton of creatures, its ability to filter unwanted cards to the bottom could bolster decks with a small number of key creatures.
While Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops remain the gold standard for burst damage from spells, there are plenty of decks that can make use of smaller motes of damage. Elusive Spellfist has seen play and Seeker of the Way has proven that even temporary bonuses matter. To this end, Burning Prophet and Spellgorger Weird look like they could be key additions to a red-based prowess deck. Mage-Ring Bully could use some support and Burning Prophet, with its built-in scry, could help keep gas on top. We have seen heroic decks succeed in the past and red provides some additional combo potential thanks to Temur Battle Rage. It might not be enough to upset Nivix Cyclops, but it is a step in that direction.
There are plenty of other cards in War of the Spark that could see some play. Heartfire is a more flexible Reckless Abandon and can serve as a finisher in Red Deck Wins. Return to Nature is an upgrade on Naturalize that can help snipe graveyard strategies, conserving sideboard slots. Snarespinner is a green 2-drop that eats Glint Hawks and Kor Skyfishers for brunch. Spark Harvest is a straight upgrade on Bone Splinters. War of the Spark is filled to the brim with cards that are poised to break through—they just need a little nudge.