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By: jcf, Jose Freitas
Oct 18 2018 12:00pm
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In the first and second articles of this series, we covered the most direct ways to obtain card advantage in Pauper: drawing extra cards, selecting/searching for cards or depriving your opponent from his/her cards.

Now, let's cover virtual card advantage. This concept is based not on having more cards than your opponent, but making your cards more useful or effective during the game. 

Circle of Protection: Red as a sideboard against Mono Red Burn is one of the best examples to illustrate the virtual card advantage concept in Pauper. In that case, one single card can make nearly all the cards in your opponent's deck less useful or less effective for the rest of the game.

7) Killing your opponent before they can use their cards:

Some decks in the Pauper metagame are capable of killing the opponent so fast that they might end the game with a hand full of answers but not enough turns/mana to cast them.

Obviously this is not a consistent way to achieve virtual card advantage, if a deck can consistently kill as early as turn two or three, some cards need to be banned! But some decks have both a consistent mid game plan and can benefit from the nut draw mode eventually.  

So, with a bit of gigantic luck it is possible to kill your opponent turn three two or even turn one with a dedicated deck.

Each card your opponent didn't get to use during the game represents virtual card advantage for you.

Some decks/cards that might kill super fast:

glistener elf

> Tireless Tribe / Inside Out combo: This combo has been around forever, but some of the pieces on the most recent versions, like Circular Logic aren't that old.

In theory, this deck can deal 21 damage on the second turn, but Tireless Tribe decks usually carry mostly Islands and just a few Plains to be searched for. So, the aim of the deck is to use blue selection early to set the combo/protection spells/ Gush for extra cards, not to deliver the combo as fast as possible. Killing on third turn with this deck is a reasonable possibility though.

If you ever want to have some fun trying to kill opponents 2nd turn with this combo, you should look for cards capable of delivering blue or white mana immediately, like Crumbling Vestige and Lotus Petal. Doesn't look like an easy task, but maybe it is possible to make it work. 

> Kiln Fiend / Temur Battle Rage: A turn three kill is reasonably possible with this combo, as long as you have some "free" spells to help pumping Kiln Fiend, like Mutagenic Growth, Gitaxian Probe or even Gush. Most versions of this deck are Izzet,  but Monored and even Boros versions are possible. 

> Infect: Back when Invigorate was Pauper legal, Infect was the king of fast kills. Turn one Glistener Elf could easily lead to a turn two death by poison, those were wild fun times. After the banning, Infect is still viable as a casual/competitive deck, surely not a tier 1 deck anymore, but it does have some good matches in the current metagame.

I am not sure the banning of Invigorate was good for the metagame back there, I never felt infect was impossible to deal with and the dawn of the fastest deck in the format was one of the factors that opened the door for "Temporal Fissure Summer".

> Burn: Monored Burn is another example of deck capable of killing by turn three, if your opponent leaves one Thermo-Alchemist or Firebrand Archer standing you can cast three Lightning Boltish spells and one Fireblast dealing a total of 17 damage, not very likely but possible. Turn 4 kills aren't rare at all with this deck.

Going All In:

Glass cannon decks are decks 100% dedicated to kill opponent as fast as possible, not caring very much about defense or mid to late game. The Pauper format does have some glass cannon decks available. I don't think they are top tier right now but the format is full of new cards and brews all the time. It is quite possible some glass cannon deck becomes viable as competitive in the near future. It sure is a lot of fun to try making those decks work.

Here are two YouTube videos of decks (in theory) capable of killing turn two or even turn one: 

> Turn two kill with red glass cannon deck by fanofhistory.

> Turn one kill (practice) with one land spy combo by Sawbag.

8) Card Efficiency (Impact per Cost):

gurmag angler

Some cards can have a bigger impact than others. Looking for the most efficient cards can be a form to obtain both tempo and card advantage. Compare, as an example, Carapace Forger and Grizzly Bears. Both have almost the same cost but each Carapace Forger can be equivalent to two Grizzly Bears.

The reason the cost is not exactly the same is that Carapace Forger requires a deck built around it and Grizzly Bears doesn't. That can be considered a sort of cost. Artifact lands are more vulnerable to hate than basic lands and having to include many artifacts in your deck restricts your card choices at some level. Even so, Carapace Forger is obviously a much better choice than Grizzly Bears

Some super efficient cards in the Pauper format:

Myr Enforcer, Carapace Forger, Ardent Recruit, Gearseeker Serpent, Atog:

Playing artifacts in the Pauper format is a risky business, but the payoff is quite high. There are tons of different ways you can explore those low cost monsters. Some more vulnerable to hate some less. Few things in this format feels as good as playing a couple Myr Enforcers for 0 mana or having a 20/21 Atog attacking!

Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant:

Those lands require a lot of build around, but when set, they can produce seven mana with only three lands! The format offers some good color fixers led by Prophetic Prism. There are many ways you can explore the mana explosion those lands offer: Fat threats like Ulamog's Crushers, burn spells, draw spells, Ghostly Flicker combos with cards like (Custodi Squire) and Mulldrifter. There is even a monowhite version.

The downside on that strategy is a bit of vulnerability early game, also if you have bad luck in assembling the mana base, you could end with a clunky hand since the deck looks for expensive powerful spells. It is wise to add some early game defense, cards like Firebolt, Wall of Tanglecord and Chainer's Edict might be good fits.

Ancestral Mask: This card requires a lot of build around and is quite vulnerable to enchantment mass removal, but quite often you are giving +20/+20 to some creature for only 2G. Try this with some cantrip enchantments like Frog Tongue and Abundant Growth, the fun never stops!

Delver of Secrets: Potentially a 3/2 flyer for U with some build-around requirements, it is not for the lack of good reasons this is one of the most played creatures in the Pauper format. It is not fit for any deck, but in a proper build this is a high payoff and low risk card. Most decks that play it will play four copies.

Gurmag Angler: This card is not an auto 4of inclusion in the decks that play it. Gurmag Angler can be clunky early game if you have no path to fill your graveyard and it requires a fair amount of  support, but it is so great mid to late game, 5/5 for one mana is not a rare event with this card.

Timberwatch Elf: The green dork requires a lot of build-around, and elves are quite vulnerable to mass removal. But, if you do untap with this guy, you are probably knocking your opponent right out of the game  Best friends with Quirion Ranger.

9) Synergy:

battle screech      rally the peasants

Sometimes combining two cards gives more than the sum of the parts. Let's take a look at some of the most impactful combinations in Pauper:

Glistener Elf + Vines of Vastwood: The classic way to build infect decks is to combine infect creatures with pump spells. If you manage to combat damage your opponent, each pump spell is virtually doubled.

Battle Screech + Rally The Peasants: Another classic way to obtain synergy, combining tokens with general pump will multiply your damage. This strategy is slower than infect but slightly less vulnerable.

Ninja of the Deep Hours + Spellstutter Sprite: The blue ninja is already a pretty good way to draw cards in the Pauper format, combining it with come in play effects will add even more card advantage to the mix. Mono blue is a classic but each color has interesting enablers, like Ravenous Rats, Forge Devil, Thraben Inspector and Coiling Oracle.

Kor Skyfisher + Loyal Cathar: The Cathar already offers some card advantage as a hard to kill creature. Transforming Skyfisher's drawback on  on an advantage is noteworthy. Thraben Inspector is another good fit with Kor.

Crypt Rats + Mark of The Vampire: The typical way to reuse Crypt Rats is Grim Harvest. But Mark of The Vampire is my favorite. Not only you get to deal two damage to everything each turn, you might gain a ton of life in the process.

Presence of Gond + Midnight Guard: Like many combos, this is vulnerable, but the payoff can be quite high. This is the perfect example of two cards giving much more than the sum of its parts. 

10) Card Advantage Thru Gameplay:

Sometimes we can get a two for one in the course of a game by either inducing our opponent to make bad moves or surprising them with an unexpected card. Let's see some examples:

Swirling Sandstorm + Wall of Tanglecord: Here we have one of the best red sweepers in the format. If you can fill your graveyard, Swirling Sandstorm will get rid of almost anything without wings, including scary Gurmag Anglers, Myr Enforcers and mighty slivers at least most of the time. But how about making Swirling Sandstorm even more effective by including a couple Wall of Tanglecord in the deck ? If one wall survives, it will force an aggro opponent to play more creatures to reach you, buy you some time to fill the graveyard and the wall will stick after the sweep, a perfect example of a strategy capable of leading to card advantage.

This line could also work with Pestilence. Wall of Tanglecord works as an early blocker and should stick around to keep Pestilence in play. One of the preferred cards to mix with Pestilence is Guardian of The Guildpact. It is the same principle: not only it survives the pestilent activations, it forces opponent to drop more attackers to reach you.

Other strategies that go well with sweeping the board are land destruction and hand disruption. In both cases, opponent knows he/she has a window to play his/her spells early in the game. Soon there will be no more lands or no more cards in hand to cast. This makes sweep spells like Evincar's Justice, Crypt Rats or Swirling Sandstorm extra sweet because opponent has a tendency to put it all out asap.

On the aggressive side, sometimes we can force our opponent to chump block or make bad blocks. Affinity with a good starting hand is one of the best decks to make this happens. An early flow of oversized creatures or simply Atog can force your opponent to make risky double blocks or chump blocks to avoid getting to 0 life. Another interesting example is Rot Wolf, many times this putrid puppy act as sort of green Ninja of the Deep Hours. Opponent must block it to avoid poison death, you keep pumping it, killing blockers and drawing more spells. Not infect's main plan, but it happens occasionally.  

Finally I would like to mention Spellstutter Sprite, on the other side of the table. When I am playing an aggressive deck, I try to avoid exposing my spells to Spellstutter Sprite. Sometimes, if you have a fast start, you can force your opponent to cast the annoying faerie as a chump blocker. This is not possible every game, but it is good to try to recognize when it is. 

Good fun and fight well! See you next time!