Pauper Review: Dominaria

Dominaria is upon us, and the land of lore is rife with strong cards. Its commons are no exception. Pauper might miss out on Dominaria's legends and sagas that have shaped the set's iconic revelry in history, but we've undoubtedly received a slew of commons that will be legendary in their own right. Pauper has a much more leveled playing field than other formats, so a single strong card that breaks the mold can stir up quite a bit of excitement. There are a few of these potential game-changers that I want to delve into, and look at how they alone can forge new decks. After that, I'll touch on the other new commons that might also have some impact on Pauper. Let's take a look at the changes Dominaria will have on Pauper.

Rat Colony

I want to start with a card that begs to have an entire deck devoted to it: Rat Colony. This new rat comes on the tail of Relentless Rats having recently been reprinted at common in Masters 25. These are two flavors of the same card, and examining the differences between them is key to seeing where Rat Colony fits in. Rat Colony's power grows at the same rate as Relentless Rats, but sticks to a permanent toughness of 1. For this trade off, it costs one mana less and counts all rats for his power boost. These changes are quite significant and gives ample room for their respective decks to diverge.

One of Relentless Rat's weakest points in flexibility is its hunger to fill every single creature slot with itself. Every other creature you run lowers the Rat's total reliability and growth. Rat Colony, on the other hand, is happy to have other creatures thrown into the mix, so long as they remain the vermin's kin. Pauper has a few strong rats, with Chittering Rats and Ravenous Rats already seeing extensive play. The other, and most pointed, difference is the kind of deck each of these want to be in. Relentless Rats works best in a mid-range shell, trying to grind out the opponent until their resources are exhausted and the inevitable takes hold. Rat Colony seems better in a tempo deck, where small advantages are compounded until the opponent can't keep up. This gives us an entirely new Rat deck to explore: Tempo Rats! This can work well in almost every Black-X color combination, and can even run in monoblack.

Powerstone Shard

Powerstone Shard is quite the mana rock. It's modeled after Cloudpost, after all, which was strong enough to earn a ban. A three-cost artifact doesn't quite pack the same punch as a land drop, but that doesn't mean it isn't still powerful. The obvious deck that for it is Tron, given the deck's desire for large amounts of mana. Many decks already run Ancient Stirrings, and Powerstone Shard is another target for it to grab. This also gives Tron resilience against decks that try to directly stop the Tron lands.

I would not dismiss this as a Tron-only card, however. There's innumerable decks that can benefit from such ramp, and it allows other colors to try Tron-similar strategies. One of Tron's choke points is that by sacrificing most of the color in your landbase, you are then forced to either stay mostly colorless or run color-fixing artifacts. This starts to streamline Tron builds and stifles diverse paths. Powerstone Shard requires no such sacrifice, and can thus work in color-heavy builds. I can especially see it coming to ramp fruition in mono blue, as the extra mana can enable Mulldrifter hardcasts, Capsize buybacks, and game ending beaters that are usually out of mono-blue's reach. All the while not sacrificing the blue sources that would make Counterspell less reliable. As a bonus, Drift of Phantasms works as an excellent way to fetch more Powerstones and turn the ramp up to max.

Ghitu Lavarunner

Ghitu Lavarunner can be quite an impressive one drop. It could be a Goblin Guide for Pauper, a card that was a huge boon to Legacy and Modern Burn. Nostalgic holdouts aside, Burn has long abandoned creatureless strategies, and Lavarunner's "Shock and profit" can fit in nicely.

There is one distinct difference that makes Lavarunner different from Goblin Guide. Goblin Guide is most effective when cast on first turn. He sneaks in his damage before the opponent has a chance to stop him. Lavarunner can't sneak through first turn. He requires at least a turn of setup, if not two, to reach full potential. This means that casting him and sneaking him in for his damage requires timing and skill. It also means that he'll be slightly less reliable on dealing his damage. That said, when he gets through, he's quite a powerhouse of damage-to-card ratio.

Outside of Burn, Lavamancer could also find homes in RU Prowess, RGx Zoo, and Aggro Red. The latter two would require builds that are more spell-heavy than normal, but a Groundswelled Lavamancer packs enough surprise punch to be well worth exploring.

Cabal Paladin

Most people's initial reaction to Cabal Paladin is a "maybe". In a format without Legendaries and Sagas, its ability relies solely on artifacts to trigger. On one hand, Shocking an opponent every time you cast an artifact seems like quite the bonus. On the other, it's a four drop which generally works against mass-artifact strategies. It might be twice the hit of a Disciple of the Vault, but it's four times as expensive. This trade is not worth it in Affinity decks. The high cost simply works against everything else Affinity wants to do: drop everything early and avoid paying mana as much as possible.

There is, however, a deck that Cabal Paladin works well in: Eggs. Eggs has generally been a fringe deck consigned to oddball combo players and brewmasters looking for new decks. The printing of Reckless Fireweaver and Firebrand Archer last year gave the deck a boost, but it was still seen as a weaker choice than Affinity. Cabal Paladin might be the push the deck needs. Eggs' entire concept is to burn through Chromatic Spheres, Chromatic Stars, and Conjurer's Baubles to trigger multiple abilities that kill the opponent. Cabal Paladin's damage is enough that he can easily seal the deal on his own. He's a Glaze Fiend that doesn't have to attack, and attacking is the least effective way to kill in a combo deck. His mana cost might seem high compared to the others, but Eggs doesn't have a problem getting mana, and the deck doesn't generally want to combo off before turn 4 anyways. Another point in Cabal Paladin's favor: Eggs has always been a UBR deck, but his power gives us the possibility of cutting blue.

Wizard Tribal

The last cards I want to single out as deck makers are the Journeymages: Ghitu Journeymage and Academy Journeymage. While these aren't obvious "build a deck around them" cards, they combine with existing cards to help solidify an under-represented tribe: Wizards. Wizards only have a few cards that actually care about them being a tribe, which means that sticking to their tribe doesn't have much competitive benefit. The two Journemages add more advantage to staying tribal, and they also have something other wizards lack: aggressive bodies. Ghitu Journeymage, especially, has an aggro body and a direct damage trigger in a generally non-aggressive tribe. This offers a new approach to Wizards: Tempo.

An aggro-control Tempo Wizards deck sounds odd, but the Journeymages can make it happen. With Aether Adept and Academy Journeymage, we can easily stalling our opponent while we amass an army of wizards. Add in Ghostly Flicker, and we can make Ghitu Journeyman recursive burn and continue the stall. From here, Archaeomancer can begin Ghostly Flicker tricks. The pieces are all there for Wizards to become a more prominent tribe.

Other Common Goodies

There are quite a few other cards that I think could easily see play, but aren't by any means deck defining. These cards are upgrades to existing cards, offer intriguing new aspects, or just offer general good utility.

  • Adventurous Impulse
  • It would take just the right deck for Adventurous Impulse to reliably hit and hit what you want, but when it does, it's a green Preordain. It's a very niche card, but when if it finds its niche it'll shine.

  • Arcane Flight
  • Interestingly enough, Arcane Flight has a fairly definitive position as being the best one-drop aura that gives flying ever printed. No other one-drop aura gives flying and a boost to power. The most obvious place this card can take flight is in Bogles, where auras, evasion, and power-enhancement are a triple threat the deck wants.

  • Baloth Gorger
  • It's a generic beater, but it's a good generic beater. A four-drop 4/4 is nothing to scoff at, and it gives the late game ability of being a 7/7. Green Beats isn't anywhere near the top of competitive decks, but if you like playing such a deck, this guy might be worth a try.

  • Demonic Vigor
  • Demonic Vigor offers a small aura with the bonus of stopping the two-for-one drawback that auras often give. It's a Raise Dead that offers early benefits. Slap this on a Chittering Rats, and your opponent will really have to decide if it's worth killing or not.

  • Divest
  • My love for Duress-style cards aside, Divest offers a versatile discard spell on turn one. It's not adaptable enough to see main deck play in most metas, but it has some strong capability as a sideboard card. It's worth specifically noting that Divest can grab artifact lands. Doing so right off the bat can easily wreck an Affinity or Metalcraft deck that was relying on playing one their first or second turn.

  • Fungal Infection
  • This is an easily overlooked gem. There is an endless parade of creatures with only one toughness in Pauper, and the ability to both kill a creature and make a threat can easily change the early game. Additionally, it can offer the same kill potential as a Disfigure. As an instant, it can shrink an attacker and make a token that blocks and kills a 2/2. This feels like black's version of an Icatian Javelineers, properly reversed with death coming first.

  • Grow from the Ashes
  • We all love a good ramp spell now and then. Much like the other kicker cards, Grow from the Ashes's potential arises from the versatility of getting either a little now or more later. I'm not sure it can compete with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Cultivate, but I also know putting two lands directly into play is strong enough ramp to not be dismissed.

  • Radiating Lightning
  • We've seen a burn spell with Electrickery before on Chandra's Fury, but the difference between four mana and five is huge. Electrickery can be a game wining effect, but it can also be a useless dud. Radiating Lightning promises to offer that potential game winning ability on a card that's never a dud, and at a more reasonable cost than Chandra's Fury.

  • Saproling Migration
  • Token strategies in Pauper are relegated to only a few good cards, and Saproling Migration wants to join them. Sprout Swarm is the obvious comparison, as it also produces early or scales later for more. Migration offers the addition more quickly, but Swarm offers endless escalation. I believe the true strength in Migration is if these two cards are combined to create your token uprising.

  • Unwind
  • It's a common strategy: your opponent casts a spell to tempt you into countering. Now that you're tapped out, they casts their real threat. Unwind can outmaneuver such a ploy. Its is a strong counter that offers a Rewind effect on a Negate. Rewind and Negate both see play, and I definitely expect this to at least make some Teachings lists.

  • Vicious Offering
  • A two-drop Disfigure isn't horrible, but Vicious Offering's power comes in its ability to kill Angler cheaply. Sacrificing a creature might feel like the raw end of a two-for-one, but killing Angler is usually worth it. This is especially the case for decks that pack tokens or utility creatures that aren't meant for staying on the field. There aren't many cards that can kill Angler at two mana, especially at a splashable cost that scales. It's not a Journey to Nowhere, but it offers flexibility in decks that don't run white.

Common Decency

That's it for this pauper's review of Dominaria's commons in Pauper. I'm very excited for the new goodies Dominaria has brought us. Every spoiler season, I find myself watching for the commons that trickle out between the major previews; analyzing each one to see if it has merit anywhere in my Pauper arsenal. This set definitely did not disappoint.

I'm a firm believer that almost every common can shine in just the right deck, so what common has your Pauper juices flowing? Was there one you had your eye on that I didn't mention? Write in the comments below, as no common deserves to be unexplored!


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