"He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' [Sam] said." So ends Tolkien's The Return of the King. This describes well how I am feeling at the moment. For the past few months, I have been working in my job in both my role and that of my supervisor, despite having little desire to have the latter position. This has been a herculean experience, one that, to use my current analogy, felt like being Frodo asked to carry the Ring to Mount Doom. But at last that task is done. This lead position is once again filled, and once again I actually have the leisure time to do some of the things that I enjoy, not least of which is writing articles and creating video-casts for my favorite MTGO format, Standard Pauper. And so, at last, I'm back with another special edition of Standard Pauper Deck Tech.
As always in my articles, let me remind you that the goal of this series is to highlight winning decklists from Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, commonly referred to as MPDC. MPDC is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 7:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room. With a brand new season beginning in a few weeks, now is the perfect time for newcomers to get their first taste of Standard Pauper.
This week I am bringing you my version of a decklist I first spotted from MPDC 11.10 entitled Hawk Smash, which was piloted to a Top 4 finished by platedragon. The genius of this deck is that it found a way to harness the synergy of the Metalcraft ability word and Glint Hawk, one of the more intriguing Commons from Scars of Mirrodin. Current MTG design philosophy tends to steer away from having strong Artifact cards at Common, and so many thought that the Metalcraft mechanic was unlikely to see much play in Standard Pauper (or even in Standard, at least prior to the release of Mirrodin Besieged). Yet here was a deck that successfully used the mechanic to create an aggressive deck that made good use of its Artifacts. Intrigued, I hoped that perhaps I had stumbled upon a potential answer for the dominance of Esper Control in the current Standard Pauper metagame. This initial list, as it turned out, while having a lot of potential, was in need of tuning. Take a look at the version I ended up with:
I ended up running various versions of this deck each week in Monday Pauper Deck Challenge for three successive weeks, making various tweaks and changes according to the results both at this event and in the Casual Room. My final list has some pretty extensive differences from the original, so let's take a look at how I arrived at my final list:
1. Testing quickly revealed that both Auriok Sunchaser and Glint Hawk Idol were not strong choices. While the Sunchaser can be a formidable beater when Metalcraft is activated, it is all-too-easy for an opponent to take out an artifact at the wrong time, reducing it back to a weenie 1/1 just in time for some other creature to send it to the Graveyard. Glint Hawk Idol was better, but doesn't play as well as one might think. There aren't enough strong Artifacts to generate a free activation that often, such that its activation cost can become a liability, especially when Lands are in short-supply. Furthermore, given the lack of Sorcery-speed removal in the current metagame, you don't really get any value out of the fact that most of the time it is an Artifact.
2. Goblin Bushwhacker is a much stronger card than these other two creatures, but still ended up sitting unused in my virtual cardbinder. While enabling some nifty Alpha-strikes from time-to-time, the goblin itself rarely actually connects, given that there is no shortage of good non-evasive creatures to clog up the ground. Additionally, the burden of needing two to get any real value out of the card is also a liability, seeing as how the decklist is primarily White and has no other use for double Red. Furthermore, at least in its initial configuration, the decklist wasn't all that fast. In my opinion, decklists that get the most value out of Goblin Bushwhacker are those that are more or less "all-in," relying fully upon overwhelming an opponent with damage in the first few turns before he or she can stabilize against you. While still aggressive, this wasn't exactly what this deck was geared to do.
3. If you've been following Standard recently, then this next creature should be very familiar to you. Along with Kor Skyfisher, these hawks have been dominating the Standard Pauper metagame, and despite the fact that they are not Artifacts, the fact that this card was not included in the original list seems like a glaring oversight. In fact, once they were added back into the mix, they even made Goblin Bushwhacker a much more viable option. Whole matches in Standard Pauper now come down to which opponent finds their squadron first or to which opponent can pair down the opposing squad with as little trading as possible. Just the fact that this card, at least in Standard Pauper, almost feels like a "Draw three cards" makes this an almost auto-inclusion in any deck that can support them.
4. Speaking of dominant White creature in Standard Pauper, Kor Sanctifiers. Ever since its release in Zendikar, this has been a popular Sideboard choice in Standard Pauper, coming in as the number one "go-to" guy for destroying opposing Artifacts and Enchantments. Journey to Nowhere is probably her favorite target (along with Oblivion Ring prior to the release of Scars of Mirrodin), but in the current metagame she works equally well against Sylvok Lifestaff, Corpse Cur, and Raid Bombardment, to name a few. Recently, several successful decklists have moved a copy or two of this card into the Main, hoping to gain an edge in Game 1 and bringing in additional copies from the Sideboard should the situation call for it. And even when its ability is irrelevant, a 2/3 for 2 is still pretty good value.
5. Another long-time presence in White-based decks, particularly in the Sideboard, is the efficient Lone Missionary, which gives a nice bonus of 4 life in addition to its 2/1 body, all of which is a solid deal for 1. Lifegain has proven to be very important, particularly when aggressive decks like Boros Landfall made up a more significant metagame presence. For an additional White mana, Kemba's Skyguard can serve a similar role. While the Lifegain is not as significant, trading a 2/1 for a 2/2 Flying is a decent upgrade for its cost. This Cat Knight also fits right in with the 'aggressive fliers' theme of the deck. And since the deck is predominantly White and already running Kor Sanctifiers, the cost isn't really a liability. However, you don't want too many of these, and thus I limited this card to 3 copies. I also found myself selecting this card as the most logical choice to Sideboard out.
6. Finally, I added in two Evolving Wilds and a single Swamp to allow the deck to splash for Black mana. Primarily, this is to increase the value one can derive from Nihil Spellbomb, which is currently the only answer in Standard Pauper to Graveyard recursion. While this spellbomb is fine even without access to Black, it's so much better when one can cycle it, making it much less of a liability late-game. Splashing a single Swamp also allows one access to a variety of other possible Sideboard choices, including Moriok Reaver, which provides some additional card advantage versus Esper Control. Although some might argue that Prophetic Prism negates the need for actual Black mana sources, I find having an additional option to be a wise choice given the obscenely random shuffler.
B. Playing the Deck
Metalhawk should be classified somewhere between an Aggro and Mid-Range style deck. With a good hand, one can quickly amass a solid mass of Flying attackers, quickly reducing your opponent's Life in the first few turns. Then, as your opponent begins to establish more control over the virtual battlefield, the suite of burns spells, along with the surprisingly effective Necrogen Censer, provides the necessary reach to finish him or her off. In particular, either Kor Skyfisher or Glint Hawk can be used to recharge the Censer, allowing you to very quickly drain away your opponent's life total. Another effective strategy is to achieve Metalcraft quickly and then send a couple Galvanic Blasts to the dome. Alternatively, should your opponent be able to get some key blockers into place early - often through a turn 2 Squadron Hawk or Kor Skyfisher - this deck can also slow down and utilize a few tricks to gain some incremental card advantage and pull back ahead. The key combination for this second strategy is Prophetic Prism + Glint Hawk, which gives you a solid 2/2 Flyer and gets multiple uses out of the 'enters the battlefield' card drawing effect. While Esper Control and 4CC often use Kor Skyfisher to similar effect, the fact that this deck boasts multiple ways of bouncing the Prism makes this particularly effective. In fact, against Control opponents, I've had games when this combination was just as effective as my opponent's multiple Foresees in terms of total cards drawn.
Also worth mentioning is the role of Perilous Myr, which despite its presence in highly aggressive decks is probably stronger in this deck, where it can function either as an early aggressor or, more commonly, a decent deterrent to your opponent's attacks. I particularly found it to be a useful way to take out an opposing Squadron Hawk after blocking a stronger creature, allowing me to gain an edge in the virtual 'skies,' where Metalhawk strives to get the most damage through. Sylvok Lifestaff can also serve in this sort of dual-role, using it either as a minor boost to the Attack value of a Flyer (a 3/3 Kor Skyfisher is particularly effective) or as a way of protecting your Life total through what would otherwise be an uninspired trade.
The Sideboard here is useful against a variety of options. Generally speaking, both Infect and Allies decks are weakest against a large Removal suite, making Puncturing Light and Staggershock useful to board in. Against Esper Control or 4CC, one instead can board in the Nihil Spellbombs to hopefully eliminate your opponent's strategy of Graveyard recursion and the Moriok Replica to gain yet another possibility of incremental card advantage. Token-style decks also have been on the rise of late, giving me the incentive to include Seismic Shudder, which can also be effective against certain builds of Infect, Allies, or Boros Landfall. After Sideboarding, cracking a Fetchland for a Swamp becomes something to keep in mind, although generally speaking achieving double White is still more important to your overall strategy. Finally, the third copy of Kor Sanctifiers is included for decks that rely upon Journey to Nowhere, Raid Bombardment, or even the rogue Totem-armor Aura like Snake Umbra.
III. The Match
It is always painful when playing Metalhawk when your opponent finds a Turn 2 Squadron Hawk. When this happens, it is almost always a signal that one will have to go for the more Midrange strategy unless you have a solid way of dealing with this little squadron. I seem to often have trouble making my Land drops despite having 22 in the deck, and as you see here the early combination of Prophetic Prism and Glint Hawk does an effective job of overcoming that problem. Having to use the 'enters the battlefield' effect of the Kor Skyfisher on a Land is also less than ideal, but when in these sorts of situations you do what you can.
I really think this game in particular had a lot of interesting Combat situations, and as I mentioned I would love to hear some detailed analysis of where I might have made a sub-optimal choice. I don't think I really missed anything critical, but in Standard Pauper its the small advantages that are so important. Of course, trading in the Perilous Myr with 2 Galvanic Blasts in hand was not smart, and I was very fortunate that the shuffler bailed me out of that mistake. I also loved how my opponent managed to wait to play any Artifacts until I finally went ahead and ran out the unkicked Kor Sanctifiers, although I still stand by that decision. In any case, finishing off my opponent with a double Galvanic Blast was particularly sweet.
I was definitely kicking myself for my accidental double F6, giving my opponent a virtual (Time Walk) against me. Then, later on, running out the Moriok Replica without leaving up the sacrifice mana was probably a mistake, given the fact that my opponent would have maxed out on Kor Sanctifiers after Sideboard. Was definitely disappointed to draw into that run of Lands at the end, which pretty much ended any chance I had at the win and sent us to Game 3.
This was one of the stronger openers I had for the entire tournament; multiple Kor Skyfishers are just so strong, especially when you've got something like Prophetic Prism to get good value out of the bounce effect. Once again, the Prism comes to the rescue, drawing me into some additional Lands in the early turns where I need them the most. (Bela Ged Scorpion) really is a beating against Metalhawk, especially in combination with Shrivel or Fume Spitter. Fortunately I am able to quickly amass an overwhelming airforce, and my opponent simply can't find the time to gain control over the game-state.
And with that, I conclude this special edition of Standard Pauper Deck Tech. Just a reminder, if you would like a sneak peak at my content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com, you can always browse over to YouTube.com, search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. You can also now follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Let me also extend a special thanks to all my fellow Standard Pauper players who have taken the time to thank me for these articles. I truly believe that Standard Pauper is an important format, at least for Magic Online, and I also enjoy the opportunity to meet new Standard Pauper players and help them jump into this format. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts, watch the videos, and comment on my articles. See you next time!