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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
May 15 2017 12:00pm
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Budget Alternatives to Pauper Staples

By David Wright, "SteveJeltz" on MTGO


Pauper isn't cheap. Though the format promises competitive game play and good EV using only the game's most accessible cards, the reality of the Pauper format is that like other eternal formats, the list of regularly played cards only reaches around 100 with a certain set of staples carrying heavy prices tags. Many competitive Pauper decks run in the $50-$100 range. And yet the cost of those decks is often concentrated in a few cards.


Before you go out and break the bank, I am going to give a review of the priciest Pauper cards, where they get played, and appropriate budget replacements. You may even find for some of these that the budget version is actually superior in the right build!


  1. Gorilla Shaman - Ah, the Mox Monkey. Bane of Affinity. Somewhat useful vs. Kuldotha Boros and the mostly non-existent Trinket Mage decks. The thing is, to utilize him most effectively, you need to play him on board with two open mana and hit two or more lands. Because not every deck can reliably hit that mana requirement, he's not a shoe-in fit for every deck. Think about what your goal is. If I'm playing Red Deck Wins, my goal is to race damage and clear blockers. If that's my goal, I'd rather run Smash to Smithereens which has the added advantage of killing either an artifact land or a Myr Enforcer. Or a Prophetic Prism. Another good punisher card for damage is Molten Rain which a deck like Burn would love to complete its goal to convert every card for damage. It's like Searing Blaze and hits a problem land at the same time. But if you have access to the other artifact killing colors of Red and White you also have other great budget options to battle affinity. If I can hit green and red then Ancient Grudge is an excellent 2-for-1 that doesn't even require you to have all the mana available at once. In mono green you get Gleeful Sabotage, (Nature’s Claim) and Natural State. I like the first one in my stompy decks, where I know I’ll have 2 creatures on board, the second in my infect decks, where the lifegain doesn’t matter, and the third in my Hexproof decks since they can be light on mana, and instant speed can matter. In white you also have Dust to Dust which can hit two artifacts, be they creatures or lands, and Disenchant, even if it’s usually outclassed.


  1. Daze - For many years, this was the most expensive card in Pauper due to its scarcity as a Nemesis common, the least drafted block on MTGO. It got a reprint in Eternal Masters which helped the price A LOT. But in the meanwhile, many decks that would run it tried out alternatives. The effectiveness of Daze comes in two situations: the first when you want to tap out and still be able to counter a critical spell, especially when mana for both players is tight. The second is when you leave up UU, and sometimes you can either use it as a semi-bluff resemble that you are holding up Counterspell, except that you are only actually holding a Daze, or in combination with a soft second counter, whether it’s a Spellstutter Sprite, Dispel, Negate, Hydroblast or Annul. The irony of the spell is that as expensive as the card is, its utility is quite narrow: often your opponent can either choose to play around it by delaying their spells, or they can decide that the cost of you being forced to boomerang your own island is a worthy trade for the free counter. And other decks have adapted and switched to Force Spike. Some of it is psychological. If I am playing against a blue deck and I see them tap out, I think I am in the clear to cast spells, which is where Daze shines. But the same is true if its turn three, and I am on the play, and my opponent has played island, Preordain, and passed the turn with one blue mana up. My thought is, “One mana? I’m in the clear.” And then, Bam! Force Spike. It’s strength, you see, is when it breaks ordinary play patterns.


  1. Pyroblast and Hydroblast -  I would be remiss to say anything denigrating about this pair as they represent the two most heavily played Sideboard cards in the whole Pauper format. While Eternal Masters helped their price tags some, both sit at about $5 a copy which can heavily contribute to the cost of a Pauper build. If you can’t afford one of these two off the bat, or you’re just trying out the format, there are budget alternatives depending on what you are using the sideboard staples to hit. The most obvious alternatives are actually other sideboard staples: Electrickery and Dispel. The first one is punishing to faerie decks while having extra utility against elves and hexproof. The second acts like Hydroblast that it counters red’s instant speed burn spells while also adding utility against other counterspell decks and instant speed removal spells. While I consider both of these two staples good investments, don’t consider them automatic four-ofs in any deck running either color. In a deck like Burn, trading a card to save a card often means you won’t hit the critical mass of Burn spells you need to hit 20-22 damage.


  1. Moment's Peace - Tron builds love this card because mana isn’t typically an issue. But for decks running a lower land count, there are two budget alternatives I would recommend in preference to the two-turn Fog. One is Tangle, which works a heck of a lot like Moment’s Peace that it can blank two attacks by keeping the attackers tapped for an extra turn and saving you the following turn’s mana investment. The other is basic Fog. If you’re running a light land count in an aggro-combo mirror, basic fog can solve the one big attack, like from a pants-ed up Slippery Bogle, or supercharged Kiln Fiend. The one mana Fog is a great choice for infect decks, Bogles, or Stompy.


  1. Exclude - I LOVE Exclude. I find it to be one of the most demoralizing plays in Pauper. But having played my share of blue control builds, I have had to admit how overrated the three mana instant can be. Not only is Pauper filled with three mana and even cheaper two-for ones from Sea Gate Oracle and Chittering Rats to Thoughtcast and (Night’s Whisper), but Exclude comes with two pieces of set-up cost that can make it less appealing in practice than it can feel on paper. The first is that it can only be played in response to a creature spell, which 99% of the time means your opponent has to walk into it, unless you are countering your own creature in response to their counter. The second is that the caster has to hold up THREE MANA and some turns, like if the opponent doesn’t play a creature of if the caster doesn’t have another way to use the mana means the equivalent of wasting a turn. If you look at common deck builds, a card that is actually seeing the same amount of play or more is Soul Manipulation, which is quite the budget alternative. In the Dimir Flicker build where it’s found its current home, it has the utility of having three good uses: the classic two-for-one of countering their creature and getting yours back, OR just being able to counter their creature with no extra value when it’s necessary, or in a pinch, you can use it to Raise Dead your own creature like on a turn where the opponent doesn’t play into your counter, or goes to nuke your graveyard with a Bojuka Bog or Relic of Progenitus. Add the recursion of Archaeomancer and you can see why the budget alternative has as much play as the top dollar Exclude.


I’m going to cover five more a bit more quickly:


  1. Spidersilk Armor - Three Mana, gives +0/+1 and reach. Is usually played in Elves. A great budget alternative is Lumithread Field. Not only do you shave a mana, but white isn’t that hard to generate with all your Birchlore Rangers. Yes, the reach helps Elves marginally vs. Delver decks, but if I were test-driving the deck, I’d start with the budget version. Parapet also sees close to zero play, except in the rare white token builds even though it can save you from an Electrickery blowout at instant speed.


  1. Ash Barrens - If you’re looking for the shuffle effect along with your fixing, say to complement a Brainstorm, play Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse. Few decks genuinely need the one-mana instant speed search effect. Izzet Delver? Sure. But decks like Delver Fiend, Snow-Go, or Domain Zoo? You’re probably ok with either one.


  1. Standard Bearer - An absolute staple that can help shut down Kiln Fiend decks, Hexproof decks, Infect, and Stompy with all their pump spells. We recently got a reprint on the much more budget friendly Coalition Honor Guard. And to be honest, there are times that the latter is preferable! For example, the Honor Guard isn’t nearly as vulnerable to Electrickery as Standard Bearer is, and that’s one of Pauper’s top 5 most common spells. Plus it doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt, meaning against red decks, its four toughness is already a form of pseudo-hexproof to wear all your aura pants.


  1. Snap - A similar sequence is true with Snap and it’s now more common replacement Vapor Snag as we covered with Daze and (Force Spoke). When Snap was only used for removal, that sequence of “UU, Pass the Turn” typically represented some form of a counter, but it also masked if the blue mage was holding up Snap. The same card could also either bounce an opponent’s threat or save the caster’s own, including being able to recast Spellstutter Sprite. The switch to Vapor Snag makes more sense given the recent ban of Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake. Since the Unsummon effect is now only being used fairly, instead of as part of a combo sequence with Familiars and Bounce lands, Vapor Snag has the utility of being played in those “Shields Down” moments where the blue mage is only holding up one mana.


  1. Thorn of the Black Rose - As the developer of the Rakdos Midrange deck I wrote about last week, I will admit that the Monarch mechanic on Thorn is a godsend to midrange strategies. But this card has spiked in price a couple times, even approaching $10 a copy when supply is scarce. Honestly, the only reason this card is superior to the budget Palace Sentinels is the color of the mana symbol since Black is almost universally a control or midrange color. But so is Orzhov and Boros and Azorius, and all three of those can run Palace Sentinels for the same grindy effect and save a couple bucks in their quest to seize, and keep, the coveted crown.


That's it for this week. Good luck to all you entering the first week of the Sunday Pauper Challenge. We'll have the first week's data coming this week from the big event.

Next week, on the theme of pricey cards, I'm going to look at the effect of cost on the effectiveness of performance by contrasting two of Pauper's budget extremes: my own $150 brew Izzet Delver and an ultra-budget $3 version of Mono White Soul Sisters Tokens. See you then!