Seeker of the Way
It didn’t take long for Iconic Masters to make headway in Pauper. Reprint sets have an immediate impact in Pauper due to the fact that their commons are often above the curve power-wise. They have to be as the Draft environment created by these sets resemble Cube more than anything else. Masters sets have shaped, and will continue to shape, Pauper for as long as they are released. Thankfully these sets tend to reinforce themes that already exist in Pauper one way or another. Instead of spawning entirely new archetypes, they bolster those that already exist.

So what did Iconic Masters provide? As of the writing of this article only three cards have managed to find their way into posted 5-0 lists: Lead the Stampede, Jace’s Phantasm, and Seeker of the Way. Two of these have staying power while one appears to be more of a flash in the pan. This has less to do with the cards themselves and more to do with where Pauper is as a format today.

After the release of Modern Masters 2017 and the downshifting of Burning-Tree Emissary, Stompy became the de facto best deck in the format. The ability to pump out an army in the early turns and back that up with pump and Rancor made the aggro strategy the baseline for Pauper. In the intervening months, however, Pauper has found new powerful pillars.

When I talk about pillars here, I am speaking specifically about build-arounds that represent the most powerful things available to do in the format. Stompy, and by extension Burning-Tree Emissary and Rancor, do not fall into this category (at least in my estimation). Instead this deck continues to hold the role of limiting factor. In Pauper, a failure to prepare for Stompy is a plan to fail. Stompy continues to succeed in part because it has game against these three outliers of strength. These three deck buckets are Gush Decks, Tron Decks, and Monarch Decks.

Gush Decks encompass decks that leverage the eponymous instant into game ending states. These decks include Delver, Izzet Delver, Izzet Blitz, and Tribe Combo. Gush is a uniquely powerful card that asks little but provides a massive payoff in raw cards. The Monarch mechanic asks more — namely defending the crown — but can provide far more cards. Whereas Gush decks do best by immediately converting new cards to action, Monarch decks can bide their time and extra draws to try and control the long game with increased resources. The most popular of these decks is Boros Monarch, but an Orzhov build has popped up recently ,and, with Entourage of Trest recently released, I am sure other versions will emerge. Unlike the other two, Tron is not a card advantage engine but instead focuses around mana. Tron decks want to reach a mana abundance as early as possible to enact their end game. The endgame revolves around Rolling Thunder, Ulamog’s Crusher, or a Mnemonic Wall/Ghostly Flicker package. The current metagame contains Murasa Tron control decks and Dinrova Tron combo decks.

So back to the Iconic Masters cards at hand. Jace’s Phantasm, to me, is a lark. It has shown up in exactly one 5-0 decklist from the leagues. The deck in question was a Jace’s Erasure mill deck that had the option to attack with the potential dragon. Interestingly the deck packed a transformational sideboard where it could add the Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours package.

TurboMill — Pauper | JherjamesB, 5-0 Pauper League, November 19, 2017

Jace's Phantasm
When I look at this deck I see a Burn deck. Whereas traditional Burn wants to attack the “finite” life total, this deck wants to attack the finite library. The problem is that the library is a notoriously resolute target to attack — hence the beatdown back up plan. Mill works sometimes, mostly when people are caught unprepared. Jace’s Phantasm is not a reason to pursue a library depletion strategy yet as it is far too vulnerable in Pauper. On top of that it doesn’t attack on any new axis.

Seeker of the Way is a card that had much deserved hype. Pauper, for all its creatures, runs plenty of spells as well. The ability to consistently turn Seeker into a 3/3 creature with lifelink is attractive. It interacts, in some way, with all three pillars and the baseline. Against Stompy an active Seeker changes race math while against Gush and Tron decks it can reduce the number of potential turns where those decks can attempt to turn the corner. Seeker of the Way may be at its best in Monarch matches. It can come down early and help stabilize a board before becoming the Monarch. It can also attack into opposing forces and with enough backup can take the crown. The first deck to heavily feature Seeker of the Way was, you guessed it, a Boros Monarch deck.

Searing Blaze
Mathonical has a reputation for being a tight player and someone willing to iterate and innovate. Their latest take on Boros Monarch pushes Seeker of the Way to the forefront. The addition of Searing Blaze indicates that this deck wants to push through damage early and often. Not only does Searing Blaze clear out a blocker and soften a life total, it does all this while growing Seeker of the Way as well. While it may seem risky to run Searing Blaze with so few lands. However, the inclusion of Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk means that landfall is likely to be active at the proper moment.

These changes come at a price. Mathonical has given up the Battle Screech and Rally the Peasants angle of attack. Whether this is correct in the long term remains to be seen. In a microcosm it seems correct. Boros Monarch has been at the top of the format for weeks and Electrickery has become a common inclusion. Moving away from Battle Screech made it harder for people to sideboard effectively and likely gave Mathonical an edge in the mirror.

The final card I want to discuss today is Lead the Stampede. It has had the largest immediate impact in that it has pushed Elves to another level. In the past, Elves had to rely on Distant Melody to load up on cards. A resolved Melody could end the game but it had one fatal flaw — it needed creatures in play to matter. This could lead to the Elves player casting the sorcery only to be blown out by Electrickery. Lead the Stampede does not have this drawback. While it may not be a “draw five” it is pretty darn close in a deck that is almost entirely creatures.

There are some disadvantages to Lead the Stampede. Where Lead has an upper bound, Melody could conceivably draw 20 cards in a single turn. Lead the Stampede also chains worse as you cannot cast Lead and find another copy. Lead is on color, however, and reduces the reliance on Blue mana. While the debate is still ongoing, it appears that the right call is to run a mix of Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody instead of maxing out on one or the other, or both.

Iconic Masters is still new to Pauper. While a few clear winners have emerged it will take some time before the set’s full impact is felt. Not everything will be as ubiquitous as Lead the Stampede as the set has too many role players. Make no mistake — more cards from the latest reprint bonanza will see play.

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