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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Mar 20 2018 12:00pm
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10 Slightly-Less-than-Intuitive Plays in Pauper

When picking up a new pauper deck, the full utility of specific cards are in the deck can be slightly less than intuitive.

Maybe a specific damage spell is in your list because it matches up exactly with a specific threat you're trying to remove. For example Flame Slash is the most efficient way to kill a Myr Enforcer or a Carapace Forger, but it doesn't do quite do hot against a deck packing Spellstutter Sprites. Similarly, I've gotten in the habit of maindecking an exile effect like Magma Spray in my Chainer's Edict decks as insurance against undying creatures, specifically Young Wolf and Stormbound Geist

Here's 10 more examples of things you can do in Pauper that may not be apparent at first glance.

Kor Skyfisher

1. Kor Skyfisher is more than happy to reset a Thraben Inspector.

The default play pattern with Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk is to return a Prophetic Prism to your hand in order to create a 2-mana cantrip on all your creatures. But suppose you don't have the free mana available to invest 2 into an extra card now because you need to develop your board? Go ahead and bounce that Thraben Inspector and make another clue! While the net cost of your extra card will be 3 instead of two, being able to draw the card on your own time is often a worthy compromise. Don't forget that Kor Skyfisher can also reset lands on turns that you're missing a land drop, pick up a creature that has been Curse of Chainsed or just get to extra life by resetting a Radiant Fountain. That 'drawback' is quite a build-around if you use it right!

2. Use Kor Skyfisher or Mortuary Mire on your own Palace Sentinels to reclaim The Crown.

Monarch decks are designed to keep the Monarch as long as possible often including cards like Prismatic Strands and even Alchemist's Vial whose primary purpose is to ensure that you never lose that Monarch emblem. But suppose disaster strikes and your opponent does take away the crown? Rather than going for broke trying to hit them, you can also just pick up a Palace Sentinels and replay it. Mortuary Mire will bring a dead one back to your library which is easy to re-draw off clue tokens, or Kor Skyfisher will bounce a Palace Sentinels in play to let you recast it again for 3W and retake the crown!

Gorilla Shaman

3. Gorilla Shaman eats clues.

Most of the time Gorilla Shaman is sideboarded in as a hate card against Affinity. Spend X: eat X artifact lands. If the board is stabilized enough that your turn-4 play is to drop the Gorilla Shaman and gobble up a Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, and a Tree of Tales in the same turn, you're probably winning the game! This card is probably the main reason that Affinity decks are forced to run some number of indestructible Darksteel Citadels instead of all colored artifact lands. But Gorilla Shaman is also a good sideboard card against Boros Monarch decks. Not only does it eat up Ancient Dens, but it can also eat up those clue tokens that get spouted out by Thraben Inspector. As tokens, they have a CMC of 0, which means that our friend Mr. Gorilla Shaman eats them up for 1 mana each. So the next time your Monarch opponent is lazy and leaves a bunch of uncracked clues on board, you untap and have yourself a feast! Even if you only eat one land and a couple of clues, you will have denied them a number of future draws in the process.


Hunger of the Howlpack


4. Nest Invader is there to trigger Hunger of the Howlpack

Stompy decks went a big transformation about a year ago. The first big jolt came from the addition of Burning-Tree Emissary which allowed the pilot to play 2 and sometimes even 3 creatures on turn 2. Effectively getting back 1G from your GG Burning-Tree Emissary left the deck scrambling for 1G two-drops. River Boa? Check. But the other HUGE addition was adding Nest Invaders to complement the anti-Chainer's Edict package of 4 Young Wolf. Having an Eldrazi Spawn token that was willing to die at instant speed meant that the deck could reliably transition away from Groundswell as the default pump spell to Hunger of the Howlpack. Not only was the Eldrazi Spawn able to carry a Bonesplitter or a Rancor, but it could allow you to trigger the morbid clause on Hunger of the Howlpack yourself AT INSTANT SPEED!


Spellstutter Sprite


5. Kill the Spellstutter Sprite with the trigger on the stack.

Admittedly, this one took me a long time as player to figure out. Spellstutter Sprites often affect a game of Pauper similar to what Chalice of the Void does to Modern and Legacy: you can't safely cast your spells. I used to think the best thing you could do was to bait out the Spellstutter Sprite with a card you didn't care that much about so that either the Spellstutter Sprite would counter the weaker spell, allowing you to cast the better spell, or they would let your first spell resolve knowing you might have a follow-up play. And if you don't have removal, sometimes that's the best you can do. But if you do have removal, what you can do is to count the number of faeries on board, add 1 for the Spellstutter Sprite in hand, and then you'll know either the safe CMC of spells you can cast, or you can just kill the Spellstutter Sprite. Killing it alone won't let your spell resolve. If your opponent already has one Faerie Miscreant on board and you kill the Spellstutter Sprite that is trying to eat your Lightning Bolt, then a second Lightning Bolt can't save the day. But if your first kill spell is a Terminate and then your follow up is a Lightning Bolt, targeting the Spellstutter Sprite with the trigger on the stack then both will die, 2-for-2, and more importantly, you'll recover a lot of tempo in cleaning up the board.

 Quirion Ranger


6. Quirion Ranger = Instill Energy for your Elfball team.

While the most common use of Quirion Ranger in Stompy is to just reset your land drops, in the Elves deck it does so much more. A very common opening is Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves; Turn-2 Quirion Ranger, tap Llanowar Elves for G, untap Llanowar Elves with Quirion Ranger, returning the tapped forest, replay the forest, add GG more. You now have created GGGG on turn-2 to develop your board. Impressive! But what else can Quirion Ranger do? It can let you gain 2x the life on your turn using Wellwisher. Or if you have extra forests lying around, use it on yours and your opponent's turns to gain 3x the life equal to your elves on board. Got lots of Quirion Rangers and Forests? The triggers do stack. You can get double duty out of Timberwatch Elf, allowing you to both protect your team from removal and go for the kill in one turn. Or you can untap a mana dork at instant speed to play a critical spell like Hydroblast or Magnify to save your team from Electrickery. Quirion Ranger does it all!



7. Making Brainstorm work in Pauper

Brainstorm is an incredibly powerful card, allowing you to see three new cards for one mana. Better yet, add a fetchland, and you get to shuffle away any two cards you don't need and keep the three you do, making it a lot closer to Ancestral Recall than merely a Preordain. But making Brainstorm work in Pauper when there are no Polluted Deltas or Scalding Tarns is tricky. You have three options: 1. use Ash Barrens or an Evolving Wilds to shuffle that library; 2. Mill away the bad cards with a Thought Scour or Mental Note; 3. just like Legacy, use it in response to discard spell like Duress to protect the card you really need, like Gush or Temur Battle Rage, you know, the one that will win you the game next turn. Either way, getting a good Brainstorm in Pauper is possible, it just needs a good deal more set up to work.


Celestial Flare


8. Cast Celestial Flare during the End of Combat Step

Diabolic Edict is a very special card. It's the best card of its kind to kill something regardless of its size and most importantly without targeting! It can force your opponent to sacrifice that souped-up Slippery Bogle or that Hyena Umbra-laden Akroan Skyguard. The downside? Even though its an instant, it lets your opponent choose what they sacrifice. So most all-in strategies refuse to go all-in on one creature unless you're either tapped out or they have a second body. Celestial Flare is unique in getting around this second body problem. If they attack with only one creature? Then its Diabolic Edict, except it hits what you want. And if they attack with two? Kill the stupid Young Wolf or plant token with your blocker, and then after damage has resolved, use the Celestial Flare to kill the one that got through. If you cast it during the end-of-combat step then it will still be considered an "attacking creature", and often at that point they will have no choice as opposed to earlier in combat where they might have had another option.


Goblin Sledder



9. The original purpose of Goblin Sledder was to prevent life gain.

The Goblins deck runs a pretty cool package of 7-8 Mogg Raiders and Goblin Sledders which can do neat things like stack damage on your sole unblocked attacker to win the game, get an extra token out of Mogg War Marshal without worrying about the echo cost, or setting up your graveyard so that there always is conveniently a creature on top of your Death Spark to return to hand in your upkeep. But what was it originally there for? To turn off life gain. What made Goblins succeed was that it could consistently beat Mono Black Control. If they try to cast Tendrils of Corruption on any of your gobbos, including the Goblin Sledder itself? Just sacrifice it. No life gained. Say they're blocking with a Lifelinked creature like an (Armadillo Cloaked) Gladecover Scout. Just sacrifice the one who got blocked. No life gained. It's much easier to race life totals when their life total only goes one way. And just think of what this deck can do with Hordeling Outburst!


Arcane Denial


10. You can Arcane Denial your own spell to draw 3 cards.

While it doesn't see a ton of Pauper play, Arcane Denial is a unique card granting, potential card draw to two people on its resolution. The only deck where I have seen it run to any effect is Turbo Fog where giving your opponents extra cards is kind of a dubious gift while you mill them out via Jace's Erasure. But what if both card recipients were you? Just like Remand on your own spell works in Modern, if you Arcane Denial your own spell, say for example if your opponent dares to counter it, point that Arcane Denial on your countered spell and draw 3 cards next upkeep. While kind of a wonky 4-for-1, its a neat corner case trick, especially in a control strategy attrition war.




Pay attention to the unusual plays that your opponent makes. Even if they don't win the game from them or obviously positively benefit from them you will gain more knowledge of the things that you can do in the Pauper format. Corner cases can be extremely valuable even if they aren't the best play in every circumstance. The one time that you bolt your own creature and it makes the difference will stick with you. Similarly, I can tell you the game that I lost when my opponent cast Vines of Vastwood on my creature sure stuck with me! Learn the unusual plays so that you gain utility in your tool box. You never know when it is that you're need that Darksteel Pendant.


Keep having fun out there,