Pauper is one of my favorite 60-card formats in Magic. It's pretty much the only competitive format where you're allowed to play four copies of Gush, and it's a place where I won't be ridiculed for hiding in a dark room trying to break Grapple with the Past, which ranks as "favorite card that I've never actually cast." With the recent ChannelFireball announcement about Pauper support at Grands Prix, I'm glad that this historically online-only format is getting some more eyes and ears paying attention to it. TCGplayer actually has its own in-house Pauper league that I've had the pleasure of supplying cards for, and the format is pretty diverse in its own right. While Pulse of Murasa will probably never be a top-tier deck, I'm happy to pick some really strange cards out of bulk to satiate the demand of paper Pauper players.
My fellow columnist Adam Yurchick wrote a great metagame introduction a couple weeks ago, so I'm not going to spend much time telling you what decks are good in the format; Listen to Adam, he's a better player than I am. What I will do is go over several of the decks he listed in his article, and point out several lynchpin cards throughout those archetypes that could be ripe for a price correction in the coming months.
If you've checked out any Pauper decks or card prices before reading this article, you might have noticed that some lists run cards like Battle Screech, Chainer's Edict or Tangle. With no apparent printings at common, you might be curious why these cards are legal in the format. Since paper Pauper uses the Magic Online legality list, the online only set Vintage Masters can cause some differences in rarities between paper and online. The previously mentioned cards were all common when appearing in Vintage Masters, but have never seen another paper printing with a black set symbol.
In other words, Battle Screech was printed as an uncommon in Judgment back in 2002, and those are all the available copies for use in paper pauper. As such, it's a $3-4 card in a world of pennies and dimes. The same goes for Chainer's Edict and Tangle. There are also cards that were simply printed as a common two decades ago, and have seen minimal reprints since Legends (looking at you, Chain Lightning). The purpose of this article is to point out some of these lynchpin cards whose demand could increase soon. While Adam's article will give you an idea what to play, mine will help you organize your purchases to make sure you don't pay $6 for a Battle Screech two months from now. Let's get started!
I mentioned Gush at the very beginning of this article, because it's one of those old-timer cards that would never be printed today in a Modern set. It's only seen a couple reprints (all from the various versions of the Jace vs. Chandra Duel Deck), and currently sits at around $2. Mono-Blue is regarded as one of the most well-rounded powerhouse decks, and we could definitely see more players purchasing this card if it reigns at the top of GP side events in the near future. While it could see a reprint in Masters 25 in a couple months, there's little upside in waiting.
While Seat of the Synod used to be the king of the artifact lands, we've seen a relatively recent shift to Ancient Den because of the power of Glint Hawk and its kin. The Kuldotha Boros deck attacks for a lot while drawing plenty of cards, and the artifact lands have seen minimal reprints through supplemental products like Planechase and Commander. Ancient Den and Great Furnace are both soaking up a lot of demand at the moment, but artifact lands are also played in Affinity. A player who's experienced in most formats but just dipping their toes into Pauper might look at a decklist and think; "Wait, these aren't banned? Seriously?" These infamous lands aren't going to get cheaper in the immediate future.
Quirion Ranger serves double duty in both aggressive Stompy lists (it can actually generate you mana on turns you don't have an extra land drop) and Elves. The only reprint this card has gotten is a promo worth more than $30, although I would be wary of a potential reprint in Dominaria coming up. Quirion is a small sect of Dominara itself, so I would be interested if they gave the card a reprint with brand-new art; It's not the kind of card that would break Standard, though it would probably be too good in Modern…. Either way, it's a $2 card right now, but definitely one to keep an eye on. As with several of the cards in this article, there's always a risk of getting a reprint in a supplemental product in 2018.
Circular Logic only sees play in one deck, but it's a real interesting one. The Inside Out combo deck is actually one of the more expensive in the format, with Brainstorm, Circular Logic, Daze, Gitaxian Probe, Gush, Ponder and Preordain all making an appearance. These blue utility spells run at around $1-2 nowadays, which makes me wonder how many of them will be banned if the format attracts a significant amount of attention at paper events. We have a ton of historical precedent for these cards being banned and restricted in Modern, Legacy and even Vintage, so I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one or two blue cantrips get the axe in the future.
That said, Circular Logic probably has some of the lowest supply out of all of them. With one uncommon printing in Torment and an ancient FNM promo, I wouldn't be surprised to see these become a lot harder to find faster than Preordain and Gitaxian Probe; the latter two have a lot more listings on the TCGplayer marketplace.
If you read through all of the decklists in Adam's article, you may have noticed a recurring theme among the mana bases. In addition to Evolving Wilds, Snow-covered basics and the "gain life" Khans of Tarkir lands (like Jungle Hollow and Scoured Barrens), we've seen Ash Barrens as a popular fixing option for two-colored decks. While Wilds and the "gain lands" have plenty of printings for paper pauper, Ash Barrens has a solitary printing in Commander 2016. We could see a similar price pattern to Thought Vessel if we don't see additional reprints of the card in future Commander products, where a "common" (based not on availability but on power level in a preconstructed product) eventually hits $5. Ash Barrens is definitely a card that you should be trying to find in trade binders or bulk bins, because it's the kind of card that gets shed from preconstructed decks early on and left to rot in binders. Out of all the cards I've mentioned as financial yea or nays, Ash Barrens is one that you're most likely to find in trade binders and pick up at $2 or so. Trading away stagnant standard staples like Authority of the Consuls or Approach of the Second Sun for playable pauper picks is a perfect play, financially.
UPDATE: I wrote this article on Saturday, December 30th. Ash Barrens was still $3 when the article was written. It's since jumped to $5 as of January 1st, 2018. I still don't think trading for them at $5 is a bad idea, especially if you need them for a decklist.
There are several other less-than-bulk spells that I could go on with, but they're all staples in formats other than Pauper to support their existing price tag. Utopia Sprawl, Lava Spike, Lightning Bolt and Chromatic Star are Modern roleplayers in their own right; while they all see play as four-ofs in the world of commons, I don't expect that slight increased demand to be overwhelming in changing their prices. In fact, these are staples that have avoided reprints for a pretty significant amount of time in spite their strong Modern showings. These more than any of the above are some cards I'd expect to see in Masters 25 early next year.
Pauper is an interesting format because certain cards will forever remain pennies; The format will never have a Scalding Tarn-level barrier to it, because even the most expensive cards (Oubliette aside) run for $20 a playset. It's a highly competitive, low barrier of entry format that I highly recommend anyone remotely interested to at least try out. I'll catch up with you all in a second, I just need to figure out how to win with Sunscorched Deserts and Grapple with the Past……
One of the questions I've gotten from a couple local pauper players is if they should be concerned about buying their playset of Reserved List commons out of fear of buyout shenanigans or artificial scarcity. We've seen some crazy price changes in 2017, where innocuous cards like Thunder Spirit are worth an incredible amount of money simply because they're playable in "Old School" and also on the Reserved List. I bring good news! There are no commons on the Reserved List. Those who are interested in Pauper but have a fear of waiting too long to buy in can breathe easy, as any card currently legal in Pauper could be reprinted at a moment's notice. Even the obscure and hard to find Oubliette could be a common in a future set, although I'd argue Wizards is hard-pressed to find a set where it fits. I hope everyone enjoyed the read, and had a Happy New Year! Here's to 2018 being a great one for Magic.
- DJ Johnson