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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Mar 26 2018 12:00pm
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 10  More Slightly-Less-than-Intuitive Plays in Pauper

Last week I gave an example of ten unusual plays that I have observed while playing in the Pauper Leagues.

There are so many more areas of innovation in Pauper than I can possibly describe: corner cases, unusual interactions, combos that aren't obvious to a card's design. There are so many oddballs that my suggestion to you is that when you pick up a new format like Pauper, and you see something you didn't expect, take notes. This way you can remember the utility of cards that you didn't expect, thus adding to your toolbox.

Here's ten more less-than-intuitive plays and interactions you might see in Pauper. 

Ghostly Flicker

1. Ghostly Flicker is the centerpiece of every control deck's combo finish. Here's a few examples:

Ghostly Flicker plus Archaeomancer plus Chittering Rats is known as the "Rat Lock". If you opponent can assemble all three, you'll never have a draw step again.

Ghostly Flicker combines with Archaeomancer and Dinrova Horror in Dinrova Tron to bounce all your permanents and force you to discard all your cards. Each iteration costs a mere 2U, or the equivalent of tapping a single Urza's Tower with a Prophetic Prism.

Ghostly Flicker and Snap can combine with multi-mana cards like Azorius Chancery, Sunscape Familiar and Prosperous Pirates as well as the tried and true Archaeomancer to make infinite or plenty of mana and then either win the game with repeated ETB triggers from the mill effect of Sage's Row Denizen or by recurring a card like Compulsive Research to make you draw your whole library.

Some lesser Ghostly Flicker combos that are still there for utility include flickering Sea Gate Oracle, Mulldrifter and/or Prophetic Prism to draw extra cards, sometimes with the recursion of Mnemonic Wall, or just using Ghostly Flicker to evade removal.

A less popular deck but historic Pauper deck called Azorius Kitty also used both Ghostly Flicker and Momentary Blink as well as Kor Skyfisher to bounce and replay Reality Acid as a reusuable Vindicate. While we rarely see this deck anymore, the common thread is the power of flickering.

Flaring Pain

2. One Flaring Pain can stop two activations of Moment's Peace or Prismatic Strands

Damage Prevention is a funny little duck. In general, a card like Fog you would expect to act like a Circle of Protection: Red that it makes a damage prevention shield. And in general, that is what it does. Except that Flaring Pain works as a replacement effect that if damage would be prevented this turn then its not prevented. It doesn't matter how many shields they have: Prismatic Strands on Flashback, or layers of Fog effects; one Flaring Pain will stop them all regardless of where it ends up on the stack. If you are a Judge and you have a better explanation than I do, by all means enlighten us with the interaction of these two cards.

Ninja of the Deep Hours

3. Ninja of the Deep Hours also rebuys all your ETB creatures.

Ninjitsu plus evasive attackers is a great combination, especially on saboteur effects like Okiba-Gang Shinobi's Mind Rot combat damage ability and Ninja of the Deep Hours own Scroll Thief draw a card ability. But did you also notice that in the most common build of Delver decks that 11 of your 19 creatures also have enter-the-battlefield effects? Augur of Bolas usually draws you a spell, Faerie Miscreant draws an extra card if it's in multiples, and Spellstutter Sprite with its Counterspell ability is the card that holds the whole deck together. Only the namesake Delver of Secrets is there to be a straight beater, such that in mirror matches, Delver players will even side out there own Delvers! You can even use the ninjitsu ability of a second Ninja of the Deep Hours, or any other creature that has gone unblocked, to evade targeted removal by bouncing the targeted creature back to your hand.


4. Gush is the "win-card" in Tireless Tribe combo.

It is unintuitive that for an instant that says "Draw 2 cards", the correct time to cast Gush is rarely on your your opponent's end step. Instead, the right time to Gush is usually during your main phase on a turn where you miss a land drop. Tap your two Islands for mana, floating UU, return them to hand, replay an Island, and you end up netting an extra mana on the turn, even if it sets you back a land drop.


But the Tireless Tribe uses Gush slightly differently that rather than merely acting as a card draw spell for a land light deck, Gush is your kill card similar to Temur Battle Rage in Kiln Fiend decks or Atog-Fling in Affinity.


Instead, when you Gush in the Tireless Tribe deck it is because you think that the coast is clear to make one clean hit on your opponent and you already have the other necessary combo pieces in hand: Inside Out, and if necessary, Shadow Rift. In this scenario, the four cards you added to your hand from Gushing represents an additional 16 power worth of damage because of Inside Out's power and toughness switching. Usually your kill turn with the Tireless Tribe deck is a little risky, especially because you have to typically discard five cards to add 20 power for your lethal hit. Being able to draw 4 for zero mana via Gush is the play that makes the whole deck run.




5. Pyroblast can target permanents that aren't blue.

There is one key difference in the wording between Pyroblast and Hydroblast and their Alpha equivalents Red Elemental Blast and Blue Elemental Blast. The latter set tell us we can "counter target blue spell or destroy target blue permanent". The former tell us we can "Counter target spell if its blue or destroy target permanent if its blue". While the preference of the Ice Age pair does expose you to the possibility of more spell redirection, say because of something like a Spellskite if we're in Legacy, it also means that we have the ability to cast these spells even if we don't have a blue spell or blue permanent to target! Where this really benefits is for a couple of our favorite burn-happy trigger friends, namely, Thermo-Alchemist and Firebrand Archer. You can cast the spell from your hand and target a Island and still get the extra trigger for damage.

 Spore Frog


6. Spore Frog plus Tortured Existence equals Constant Mists.

Spore Frog is a very expensive common considering that it is nowhere near the top 50 creatures most played in Pauper. But there is one deck that utilizes it superbly and that is the Tortured Existence Pauper Dredge Deck. It feels absurd to me that a card like Survival of the Fittest is printed at Rare as a 1G library tutoring enchantment but Tortured Existence is a single B common since its repeated tutoring ability from the graveyard is almost as abusable as Survival of the Fittest. As far as raw power goes, Tortured Existence has got to be in the top 1% ever.


So how does this card combo with Spore Frog? Every time that you sacrifice the Spore Frog to prevent all combat damage you have now put it in the easiest place you could ask to get it back: the graveyard. Use Grave Scrabbler's Madness ability as discarded by Tortured Existence to get back your Spore Frog. If you can keep one Grave Scrabbler in hand and the other in your graveyard, you can loop the two via Tortured Existence to not only get back Spore Frog every turn but also to keep card neutral or even gain card advantage in the process.


Crypt Rats

7. Learn how to stack multiple Crypt Rats triggers.

Crypt Rats is de facto the biggest sweeper in Pauper. While Electrickery has more pinpoint utility, Evincar's Justice has buyback, and Swirling Sandstorm can be a blowout if your deck is all fliers, Crypt Rats and its enchantment cousin Pestilence are the only two cards in Pauper that can do X damage to all creatures and players. 


If you happen to encounter a creature that is stubborn to die, like a Young Wolf, a Stormbound Geist or a Loyal Cathar, the trick is to hold priority as you activate Crypt Rats so that you can put multiple activations of its X damage effect on the stack before the first one resolves. Usually this is done by holding the Control key as you make an activation, which is also the way you can hold priority to respond to any of your own spells or abilities before you opponent can. You have the privilege of retaining priority; use it!


So to kill a Stormbound Geist, for example, first activate X=3, then holding priority, activate X=2. Both go on the stack. The two damage will resolve first killing the front side, and then after Stormbound Geist returns from its undying trigger, the three damage will kill its back side.


8. Giving Crypt Rats lifelink is especially gross.

Two black cards, both typically used out of sideboards, grant this ability: Grotesque Mutation and Cartouche of Ambition. When you enchant either one onto the Crypt Rats, not only do you enable it to survive a single X=1 activation, but you will gain many times X life for the number of targets it successfully hits. If, for example, your opponent has two creatures and you have just the Crypt Rats in play, with lifelink, of course, then activating Crypt Rats for X=2 will deal a total of 10 damage: 2 to you, 2 to your opponent, 2 to Opponent Creature A, 2 to Opponent Creature B, 2 to Crypt Rats. You'll take 2 damage from the Rats, but gain 10 life. Pretty good swing, especially versus an aggro deck like Stompy. 


Piracy Charm Funeral Charm



9. Piracy Charm and Funeral Charms can actually eat draw steps.

Wizards is very careful to not print discard spells at instant speed. Otherwise you can cast your discard spell during your opponent's draw step, and if they have no other cards in hand, they are forced to discard the card they just drew! Piracy Charm and Funeral Charm are two exceptions to this rule that they are instant speed discard spells, enabling you to take the card drawn before your opponent's main phase.


Or if you want to get really greedy and just lock them out of the rest of the game, see "Rat-Lock" from Section 1. Chittering Rats + Archaeomancer + Ghostly Flicker = no more draw steps for your opponent! While you can in theory break the lock by drawing an instant, once they cast that instant and draw an non-instant, they'll be locked for the rest of the game.




10. Oubliette eats Rancor

Oubliette is a weird card whose original text far proceeds the way cards are templated today. Short answer: it's not Journey to Nowhere. As it is templated now, it doesn't even exile its target at all. Instead, it "phases" it out, meaning it won't even re-trigger ETB effects when it returns to play. And because of the oddities of the ruling around phasing, if the creature you target is enchanted, then all auras attached to it are also phased out too. Bye, Rancor. This is very different from Journey to Nowhere which will exile the creature and send Rancor to the graveyard, thus returning it to hand. 


And now that Oubliette isn't bugged on MTGO, you can even play it fairly in good faith without feeling like a Cheatyface. 


That's it for this time. Thanks to everyone who tunes in to read my Pauper and Cube content, especially Andy Couperfauss for the repost in his weekly roundup. 


Keep having fun out there,