The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Pauper Staple Comparisons
What makes a good card? What makes a bad card? This all depends on the situation. Today, I'm looking at cards that are similar in mana cost and/or effect and comparing them to find the best and the worst. I'll be using Pauper cards as their power levels are similar, but the principles used in this article should hold true for any Constructed format.
Black Spot Removal for B
The first four cards I'll be looking at were played in Standard back when they were still legal: Disfigure, Tragic Slip, Dead Weight, and Wring Flesh.
Disfigure is a solid card because it removes many early threats for cheap and alleviates pressure in the early game.
Tragic Slip can be used to kill an early x/1 threat, and if a creature died during that turn, the card increases in power to reduce a creature by 13/13.
Dead Weight sees more play in mono black decks where it can be used as removal or to reduce the effectiveness of a creature, adding to the devotion count.
Wring Flesh doesn't see much play as other cards are just more powerful or offer extra benefits later in the game. The card is sometimes more like a combat trick rather than an actual removal spell.
My Choice for the Best Card: Disfigure because it can consistently kill a relevant creature as early as turn 1.
Red Burn for R
When you think of burn spells for Red, the card that will first come to mind is Lightning Bolt. Indeed, when it comes to Pauper, most of the time it's going to be Lighting Bolt. But which printing? You can have the original Alpha Lightning Bolt, the Player Rewards Promos full-art version in foil, or any of the Core set versions. Lightning Bolt sets the bar that other cards try to follow.
Rift Bolt is a great card for Burn, but it struggles elsewhere. Its flexibility comes from the fact it can simply be cast rather than suspended if you need an immediate response.
Shock is another iconic card, but it fails to see much play. Only inflicting 2 damage with no other upside puts it way down on the list.
Firebolt is a slow sorcery, but it has flashback. This means it can be used from the graveyard, making it a versatile addition to your deck.
Burst Lightning is a card I'd like to see played more. It's your usual 2 damage, but it can be kicked with extra mana to do 4 damage instead. The problem is, Mana Burn decks usually struggle to reach 5 mana and when they finally do, they may have bigger issues to contend with.
Flame Slash gets a special mention here. As a sorcery that deals 4 damage, the card can be critical when dealing with bigger creatures wherein two spells are normally needed.
My Choice for the Best Card: Lightning Bolt, of course, as it is the standard for burn spells that all others follow in many formats.
Ensuring you don't have dead land draws can be essential, especially later in the game. Cycling lands allow you to play the lands by letting you draw a card. I'll be using white mana-generating versions in this comparison.
Secluded Steppe allows you to draw a card for one white mana. It is a very cheap way to generate the cycling effect.
Drifting Meadow is slightly slower than Steppe, but cycles for two colorless mana, so it has the potential to be used in multicolored decks.
Ash Barrens created a buying frenzy when it was first printed in Commander 2016. The card soon became a format staple as Commander decks don't really use that many basic lands for their mana base, so it was able to easily enter the format. Then Masters 25 came along and we got a second version, increasing the card's supply. More importantly, the magpies got a foil version to play with.
Desert of the True hasn't really seen much play because it offers the worst of both worlds, needing W1 to utilise the cycling ability, which may be too slow and mana intensive. It does have the Desert supertype, but it has yet to see a major breakthrough in the metagame. My local playgroup started checking out set spoilers for the creature type Camel just in case we get enough cards for a Camel tribal.
My Choice for the Best Card: Ash Barrens because it is the most flexible card, fitting in multiple deck types.
Black Removal for 1B/BB
Black, by far, has the most flexible and powerful removal spells in Pauper. However, most of these cards come with a drawback or two. In the first Pauper event that I entered, I had a mix of Doom Blade and Terror. I thought they were functionally the same and included four copies, so that I didn't have to hunt through the folders in the loft. Imagine my horror in round one when I had to face Affinity. The Terror in my hand was a dead card with all the artifact creatures in play. I've stuck to Doom Blade ever since.
Victim of Night is a lovely card for mono black, but it struggles in Mirror Matches. Once again, I was horrified to find the card stranded when my opponent played Gurmag Angler, a Zombie Fish. Understanding Pauper is just as important as understanding any other Constructed format, and I learned some very harsh lessons from local and more casual games to playing at bigger events like GP side events.
The second set of key black removals is your Edicts, which revolve around your opponent sacrificing a creature. This can be tricky when your opponent has an expendable creature to sacrifice or sacrifices a creature you did not expect.
Chainer's Edict, Diabolic Edict, and Imperial Edict essentially do the same thing, making an opponent sacrifice a creature, but each sees differing plays.
Chainer's Edict is the go-to sacrifice effect. Although it is a sorcery, the card also has flashback letting you use it once more in the late game.
Diabolic Edict is an excellent sideboard card and makes its mark as a card that can be played at instant speed.
Imperial Edict is not really used because it is a sorcery with no special abilities to add to its playability.
Geth's Verdict occasionally sees play over Diabolic Edict in mono black builds. In spite of its two black mana cost, the card comes with an additional 1 life loss to the creature's controller, which can sometimes be useful.
This next card may only cost one black mana, but it has a potent sacrifice effect. When Innocent Blood is played, each player sacrifices a creature. At best, your opponent sacrifices a creature; at worst, the card fuels your opponent's graveyard. Sometimes, adding a Dusk Legion Zealot or Phyrexian Rager to the mix helps you safely sacrifice one of your own creatures in exchange for drawing a card.
My Choice for the Best Card: Chainer's Edict is the best black removal spell because it can be critical when used a second time against decks that don't run multiple finishers.
Blue Defensive Creatures 1U/2U
I'm grouping these two casting costs together because the decks that use these creatures can use a mix of both two- and three-drops.
Augur of Bolas, Omenspeaker, and Wall of Mist are two-drops that help stall the board in the early game. Funnily enough Dimir Informant, Sailor of Means, and Sea Gate Oracle also perform a similar task.
Augur of Bolas lets you to draw a card from your top three as long as it is an instant or sorcery. This is extremely powerful as Augur can chump block for a turn until you can play your answer. On rare occasions, you don't get to draw a card, but that is variance in Magic at its finest. On several occasions, however, when the board is stalled by playing Augur, drawing your answer and playing it on the same turn can break your opponent's back.
Omenspeaker has never really seen play, despite having the same power/toughness as Augur. The card lets you scry your top two cards though.
Wall of Mist is simply a 0/5 Wall. It offers nothing else and is more annoying to an opponent than actually useful.
Dimir Informant is a new card from Guilds of Ravnica that has yet to see play, but I am personally rating this card highly. Its decent stats as a 1/4 creature with surveil can help you win games.
Sailor of Means looks good. It is 1/4 and gives you a Treasure. The problem with this card is that the Treasure artifact token isn't useful on turn four, so we would need a deck that can actually exploit it or the artifact count.
Sea Gate Oracle is the premium three-drop and only saw its position threatened when Augur of Bolas was printed at a lower rarity. Augur, although a narrower choice, does dig one more card deeper.
My Choice for the Best Card: This was a really hard choice, but I'm going with Augur of Bolas because it became a staple as soon as it was downgraded to common. When you get to choose a card, the one selected will almost always be relevant and powerful.
Blue Card Draw for U
One of the biggest controversies is the blue mana draw effects. This gets pretty complicated as some choices are based on the deck you are playing. For example, fixing your next draw step for Delver of Secrets to flip is a solid strategy. I'll be giving a mixture of sorceries and instants, including two that are banned in Modern. I've also taken into consideration Pauper players who like to "bling" their deck with foil cards. You may also ask "Why not Preordain?" and for that, my answer is "I can't afford it in foil, I was playing it in Lorwyn, and I already have Ponder in foil."
Ponder offers you a choice. You can order your next three draws or if they are bad, you can shuffle them away and draw a random card from the top.
Preordain offers "Scry 2, then draw a card", allowing you to potentially fix a Delver draw and put a card in your hand. This is one of the most potent cards in the format.
Brainstorm is a personal favorite of mine. You effectively draw a card at instant speed, but you can also stop yourself from going deeper into your library when needed. Furthermore, there are times when you may need to evade a discard effect, so having your card safely on top of your library may be a sensible strategy.
Opt is a card that hasn't really seen much (if any at all) play. This is really one of those cards that live in the shadow of others. It's basically Preordain at instant speed, but only with Scry 1 not Scry 2. With diminishing returns during the late game, would you really play this for a fifth draw effect?
There is another issue with these cards that offer diminishing returns later in the game. Rather than playing the traditional four-of card, it might be more appropriate to have a two-two or three-one split to handle more matchups. Finally, most decks that play card draw spells may also be playing Augur of Bolas and/or Sea Gate Oracle. These additions allow you to manipulate your library with great regularity.
My Choice for the Best Card: Brainstorm because it not only draws you a card, it also fixes your next draws as well.
Pauper allows the use of Counterspell. For only two blue mana, you can counter pretty much anything in the format. I'm struggling to think of anything that can't be countered at common and that would be playable.
What are the alternative choices? Occasionally, cards like Exclude have found homes as it only requires a single blue mana to be cast. Likewise, players should be aware of Negate and Remove Soul. Recently, Devious Cover-Up started seeing play in Mystical Teachings-based control decks. I was keen on this card in my previous article on Potential Pauper Playables in Guilds of Ravnica.
In all seriousness though, whenever you need to play a counterspell, you are going to want to play Counterspell. There are very few credible reasons not to.
My Choice for the Best Card: Counterspell.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article and maybe I have convinced you to try a few different cards in your Pauper decks. I would love to hear your comments on your alternative cards or preferences.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.