Today I want to look at a relatively recent addition to Pauper in Bone Picker and discuss why I feel the card is being played incorrectly in the format. Bone Picker has an attractive stat line when it’s on and this has led many decks to include the card when I feel it is incorrect.
The most logical comparison for Bone Picker is Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration. In the ideal scenario both of 3/2 flyers for a single mana. Delver of Secrets was for many years a format defining threat that could apply pressure starting on the second turn of the game. While Bone Picker lacks the ability to consistently attack on the second turn (outside Wild Cantor shenanigans) it exists in a color where it is trivially easy to run Snuff Out to enable the pastiche of Morbid.
But this is where the comparison ends. Delver of Secrets simply asks that you pack your deck full of good spells to transform it into a threat. Bone Picker asks so much more. It is basically a modal Meld card that pairs with a significant portion of your deck but still requires a second half to be anything of note.
When playing an Aristocrats strategy in Pauper, you want creatures dying to work for you, you don’t want to work to have your creatures die.
How do you turn on Bone Picker? A creature has to die on either side of the battlefield. In Amonkhet Limited this could be accomplished with a removal spell or in combat. Trade off some smaller creatures then play Bone Picker and another creature – maximize your mana early to gain an advantage on the board. Creature combat is not a huge part of Pauper these days so the best way to make Bone Picker cheap is to have a creature die. You can either spend a removal spell on an opponent’s creature or send one of your creatures to the bin with Carrion Feeder. Both exchanges leave you down a card which is a fairly hefty cost. Because combat is so rare these days it is difficult to get Bone Picker at a discount without investing another card.
Compare Bone Picker to this format all-star:
Kor Skyfisher is not just a 2/3 flyer for two mana. It comes with a “drawback” that Pauper has turned into an advantage. While Skyfisher may be a tempo negative play (you are setting back your board development), pairing with cantrip artifacts turns Kor Skyfisher into part of a card draw engine. On rate both cards are similar but it is far easier to capitalize on Kor Skyfisher’s drawback than it is to take advantage of Bone Picker’s bonus. It doesn’t help the situation that Bone Picker trades with Kor Skyfisher, leaving the black player down yet another card.
None of this is to say Bone Picker is bad. As mentioned above Kor Skyfisher is tempo negative. The combat situation outlined previously would make Bone Picker tempo positive. Seeing as how blocking isn’t likely to come into vogue anytime soon there are ways to optimize for Bone Picker.
Mogg Fanatic and Fume Spitter come with built in ways to send themselves to the bin. These two can also pick off threats on the opponent’s board, leaving you with an opportunity to capitalize on the exchange. If you trade one of these for their Faerie Seer and leave yourself up a Bone Picker you are not only even on cards but you are ahead in the tempo game.
In my opinion this is the best way to play Bone Picker. You want to be left with the best threat on the board when the vulture resolves. If you’re investing additional cards into a cheap threat it might be better to run a cheap threat that does not need any help.