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By: JustSin, Dave
Feb 27 2012 9:04am
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A First Look

So it has been about a week now (depending on when this gets put up) since the new set, Dark Ascension, has been made available to us online through pre-release events, etc.  While there may be a number of people who play that are waiting for release events before cracking packs, there are still people who could not resist and jumped on those DA packs as soon as they went on sale.  The cards have been slowly creeping across the MTGO Market and people are starting to get them into decks left and right.  Now that I've become a self-proclaimed Pauper enthusiast, I was anxious to see what impact it would have on the current meta-game. 

While I stand by my ascertain that this set was not going to bring a lot of playable cards into the competitive levels of this format, there were a few that had me excited.  I was even hoping to see a new deck type arise in the form of an old broken combo that we know and love, thanks to Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond.


Before we get to that there we need to take a quick look at where the meta-game is currently.  Everyone should be familiar with the famous cliché, "you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been".  We've been privileged (burdened?) with a pretty stable meta-game when it comes to Pauper in my opinion, so anyone who has played it competitively will be quite aware of what's out there.  For those who haven't here's a quick look at what it entails...

Current Deck Types
(this list has been edited down into the major deck types only)

Now let me quickly clarify how I came put together this sample first.  Starting with the 15th of February I went through every Daily Event posting as given to us on the Wizards' MTGO site.  So my "picture" of the current meta environment is focused on decks that had at least a 3-1 showing during a Daily Event.  Each deck type is prone to variation so these of course will be a general deck type and not breaking things down further.  For example, one type has been identified as "Storm", which is not broken down into Empty the Warrens vs. Fissure Storm.  While some may argue that this slightly alters the numbers it had to be done for the sake of clarifying the information in my opinion (I can't even begin to count all the individual variations on storm decks).  The final note I'll add is that any deck that had less than five showings over the week has been rolled into "Rogue" decks.  Ok, so that's all been said, here's what we have...

When it's all said and done I can't say that I'm too surprised by this list.  What we are currently seeing is that Storm is really dominating the playing environment.  A recent article that went up was regarding Storm in Pauper and is worth a look in order to see a couple different varieties of Storm, but I do think it ends a bit wrong.  It refers to how everyone is "hating" against Storm so its hard to play... looking at these numbers I do believe this can be seen as incorrect.  Storm is a tough match in Pauper for any deck and there are really a limited number of options for keeping it under control, but the best tend to be Prismatic Strands and/or Echoing Decay/Echoing Truth.

What can make competitive play in this format a bit dreary is the fact that the top three deck types on this list are decks, which are all non-interactive.  Decks where your opponent doesn't get a lot of chance to play against you, which equals not fun in my opinion.  The drop off from that first tier is quite impressive as well.  Goblins, the top deck in what I'm declaring as tier 2, are 20 showings behind the number one deck overall.


So while gathering this data I was also checking out to see what, if any, additions have been made by Dark Ascension to Pauper decks.  It becomes interesting to note that no changes were really made to decks within this first tier.  So let's now break it down deck by deck...

Storm

Now I don't know how many times I can say that there are a million and one different ways to build a Storm deck for Pauper.  I will remind you, my dear readers, once again that this does include Temporal Fissure decks as well.  With all the Storm decks out there I half expected to see a lot of them working in Faithless Looting since it was a better fit with all of the red mana spells and gave you a flashback option as well.  Now while I was anticipating this being a new staple to these decks I didn't take into consideration two important things.  The first is the fact that most of the Storm decks, pre-DA, were not running Careful Study, which it would be replacing, in the first place!  Why bring in an upgraded Careful Study when you're not running the original?  The second issue was that most Storm decks are already running blue mana so the reason they aren't running Careful Study isn't due to a lack of the necessary colors.

However, I was not totally let down as deluxeicoff did manage a 3-1 showing with a Storm deck that had Faithless Looting.  Take a look...

Mono-Red Storm
A Deck By: deluxeicoff
Creatures
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Kiln Fiend
8 cards

Other Spells
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Empty the Warrens
4 Faithless Looting
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lava Dart
4 Lotus Petal
4 Manamorphose
4 Rite of Flame
4 Spark Spray
36 cards
Lands
4 Forgotten Cave
12 Mountain
16 cards

Faithless Looting

As you can see this is a version of Storm that is running Kiln Fiend, which does significantly increase the power of running Faithless Looting.  While flashback is a nice feature, you won't always have the extra 2 mana available to cast it a second time.  While the main Storm element of this deck is Empty the Warrens it actually has a very strong showing with Kiln Fiend as the star win condition.

MUC

MonoBlue Control was a deck that I expected to show up with Stormbound Geist as an option for some of those big fliers like Stitched Drake and Spire Golem.  This was a bit biased on my part because of my love of the new undying mechanic.  Nonetheless I felt that the "can only block creatures with flying" text would not be a big draw back in the current environment.  We've already seen how MUC and IzzetPost have dominated the DE showings and both rely on fliers to hold down the board.  I guess this was a bit misjudged on my part because most MUC control decks are running only two copies of Stitched Drake, which would be the most likely replacement.

What is more important to note about this potential change is the averages that we see on the chart above.  While MUC and IzzetPost have dominated the overall showings we still see that when you combine the average showings from the aggro decks then you're significantly outweighed.  In other words while MUC and IzzetPost are showing more, odds are you'll be facing more aggro decks then decks with fliers.  Outside of these two decks the only other lists that will be running fliers would be DimirPost (with Mulldrifters), some MonoWhite Aggro decks (in the form of Kor Skyfisher most of the time), and perhaps even MBC with a Liliana's Specter.  A big portion of the decks you'll face will have a large number of ground attacking creatures, which will need to be blocked.

There has been no impact on MUC from the release of Dark Ascension.

IzzetPost

IzzetPost suffers from a similar situation as MUC does.  While the deck brings in Red as a means for burn and kills spells such as Lightning Bolt, it still is very creature light.  The best viable option for an addition to this deck would be the Stormbound Geist as well, which runs into the same issue.  What both IzzetPost and MUC are missing from this set is quality blue commons.  Dark Ascension is one of those rare sets that did not bring us any type of quality counter magic.  When it comes to common Counterspells the only thing that we get from DA is Bone to Ash, which comes at a heavier casting cost then most control decks want.  I will even go as far as to say that blue is the weakest of the commons from DA.

The options available to us from Red are rather weak as well when it comes to this deck.  All of the red cards within IzzetPost are focused on low cost burn spells.  In DA the only option we get is Fires of Undeath, which you would think of as having potential due to the black in the flashback cost.  IzzetPost is already used to this thanks to Mystical Teachings, but the cost seems way too heavy for only doing 2 damage.  We have options like Shock, which comes in at a single Red or even better Burst Lightning, which has the ability to do more damage when you pay the bigger mana cost.

Now some decks do run Staggershock, which is a three costed burn spell, which comes back next turn and an argument can be made for Fires of Undeath being a better choice due to the fact that you get to choose when you get to use it a second time.  The draw back again, is the fact that the flashback cost is 6 mana (though easily reachable when running both posts).

Despite this, there was not a change to IzzetPost lists as a result of the Dark Ascension release.

Gobos

Goblin decks have made a very strong showing recently and the lists are older than time.  All of the powerful goblins were released many, many sets ago and there have been few new Goblins that have made any impact on those lists.  Of all the evil creatures in this new Plane, Goblins are not one of them.  This was a good choice on Wizards part, I do believe, because they've already done them to death in other sets.  However, we were introduced to a new set of little red men in the form of Devils.  Forge Devil would be the only card viable for addition to the Goblins list, but even then it might be hard to find room.  If anything it might be fitted as a sideboard option, but it would allow the Goblins player to deal with little things such as Cloud of Faeries, Benevolent Bodyguard, Ravenous Rats, etc. instead of wasting a spell light Lightning Bolt to clear the field.  The one thing that holds it back is the fact that a lot of the one cost Goblins are 2/2s.

As mentioned above there are really no decent burn spells in DA so as you can imagine there has been no change thanks to the Dark Ascension release.

Affinity

I won't waste a lot of time on this one.  Dark Ascension has brought very little to the table as far as artifacts.  When it comes to drafting there are some options available for good artifact control, but really nothing worth killing even beyond the restriction of Pauper.  The only thing worth killing would be Warden of the Wall and maybe Helvault, but both of those aren't going to be in Pauper.  There are actually only two artifacts that were given to us for Pauper and those were Executioner's Hood and Heavy Mattock, both of which aren't very good fits to the current affinity lists.  Coming right after a set that was so incredibly devoted to artifacts, Wizards did a pretty good job of making sure this one was far from that theme.

No changes.

Infect

Now Infect was one of the deck types that I thought would see zero impact from the release of Dark Ascension.  This is a deck that relies very heavily on the instant pump spells that allow the deck to pull off a turn 2 win.  The only spells available to add were Hunger of the Howlpack and Wild Hunger, which I thought just didn't have enough to power behind them to make the grade.  Well agustincio1978 proved me wrong...

While it wasn't a big impact he did bring in two copies of Hunger of the Howlpack.  After taking a second look I can see where this card might have an advantage.  We're currently in a playing environment that is heavy on the removal, especially after the emergence of the GR Aggro Burn and DimirPost deck types, which means that Infect decks have to start getting a bit heavier on creatures, making sure they are running no less than 15.  This is where Hunger of the Howlpack can have a good impact.  With two creatures on the table, your opponent decides to kill one and leaving behind the smaller of the two, say a Glistener Elf, which now gets three +1/+1 counters.  That's right this pump spell isn't just a temporary bonus, its permanent.  Any deck running white will be bringing in things like Prismatic Strands, which can cancel out an attack, making all your pump spells wasted, but since the bonus on Hunger of the Howlpack is permanent it becomes a stronger choice.  What holds this card back is that without the morbid ability it is simply a +1/+1 for 1, which is underpowered by this deck's standards.  This is why I say bring it in, but don't run a full set.

MBC

MonoBlack Control was one deck that I thought had the most to gain from the release of Dark Ascension.  When it comes to creatures there isn't a lot to offer outside of Black Cat.  Now Black Cat is significantly worse than Ravenous Rats due to the fact that it has to die in order to cause discard.  Sure it does force a discard at random, which is awesome, but in my opinion the fact that it has to die simply means that your opponent can let it through for many turns, taking only 1 damage, until a point when they can afford to lose something from their hand on their own terms.  If we went into aggro we would have access to Highborn Ghoul, but that takes away from the important aspect of control that is really needed for mono black to win.

What Dark Ascension does offer us is Undying Evil and Tragic SlipUndying Evil becomes a good option for a replacement of Unearth or even to be run alongside it to make those little rats just that much stronger.  Once you get Ravenous Rats on the field they really don't do much beyond forcing the discard, but give them undying and now you have a creature that is more along the lines of the others you'll face.  Even better it can pump creatures like Liliana's Specter and give you extra draw from Phyrexian Rager.  To me Undying Evil is a must add for MBC.  Oddly enough only msyymgt has added it so far, but fortunately for him he's managed to bring about multiple showings with it.  Take a look...

Now I also think that Tragic Slip is a great addition for MBC.  There are currently three options, which are run by black control at the 1cc slot.  These include Disfigure, Scar, and Dead Weight.  Off the bat Tragic Slip seems weaker than Disfigure, which is the most commonly used 1c kill spell for MBC.  What you do gain is the ability to kill any creature that you'll see in Pauper once the morbid ability is activated.  While this is not always easy to achieve the potential gain may make it worth it.  There are a lot of creatures in the current playing environment that fall into the -1 kill category and nothing bigger than the 8/8 Ulamog's Crusher.  While I have played a lot of MBC in Pauper I have to admit that I'm completely divided on whether or not I feel this is a great addition to the deck.  I can hands down say that Dead Weight > Disfigure > Scar, but where Tragic Slip fits into that list is really situational.

MonoWhite Aggro

Ok so allow me to be blunt on this one.  Are you playing MonoWhite?  Are you running Loyal Cathar?  If not, WHY NOT?!  I saw this card as the only guaranteed four of that would make every list.  This guy is awesome for MonoWhite Aggro and just all around great.  I love him in draft too!  For two white you get not only a 2/2 creature, but he has vigilance as well!  Sure its double white, but you're not playing any other color.  If he dies?  No problem!  He comes right back!  Sure he can no longer block, but you're playing aggro dam it!  Equip that Bonesplitter and let him get back to beating up on people!  Just ask Mota, who has used this guy in his multiple showings with MonoWhite Aggro...

Maybe its me, but I cannot think of a single reason why you would not run this guy in MonoWhite Aggro.  Feel free to leave comments and tell me how very wrong I am on this, but if I was running a MonoWhite Aggro list, this guy would definitely be on it.

RG Aggro/Burn

Now the RG Aggro/Burn deck is a relative new comer to the scene and if this deck has a specific name that someone wants to correct me on please do.  This is a deck that uses all green creatures alongside a handful of red burn spells in order to beat down an opponent.  While I have not yet had a chance to run this list myself I would imagine that the big up-sell of this is the creatures like Blastoderm and (Jorael's Centaur), which have shroud.  These two troublesome creatures are able to get by no problem in an environment that is heavy on the targeted removal.  In fact only black has an answer to the shroud ability by using Diabolic Edict main deck.

Based off my limited knowledge of this deck I would have expected a creature with undying like Young Wolf might have had an impact since it was already running a similar effect, except reversed, in Safehold Elite.  Oddly, the changes that I have seen to this deck go in a different direction, finding room for something a little bit bigger.  The first deck I saw making this change was ran by Siddharta, but I have seen it in another showing as well...

RG Aggro/Burn
A Deck By: Siddharta
Creatures
4 Blastoderm
4 Civic Wayfinder
2 Hollowhenge Beast
4 Jolrael's Centaur
4 Llanowar Elves
4 River Boa
4 Safehold Elite
3 Wickerbough Elder
29 cards

Other Spells
3 Firebolt
1 Flame Jab
1 Flame Slash
4 Lightning Bolt
9 cards
Lands
13 Forest
9 Mountain
22 cards

Hollowhenge Beast

As you can see they managed to find room for this rather generic looking creature.  The Hollowhenge Beast has no playable abilities and the only appeal to it is the fact that the casting cost is the same as its power/toughness.  When we look at Pauper specifically we can see that there is another appeal to the Hollowhenge Beast as well.  Anyone who has followed al of my articles knows that I have said that the hardest thing to deal with in Pauper is a creature with a toughness higher than 3.  When you face a creature like that you have to be playing either white or black in order to be able to handle it with a single spell.  Going beyond three toughness puts the creature out of range for Firebolt and putting it beyond four even moves it out of range for Galvanic Blast.  Having big creatures that are hard to handle seems to be the key with this deck and Hollowhenge Beast fits perfectly into that.

MonoGreen Aggro

When we first saw the fully spoiled list for Dark Ascension I think we all knew that this guy would have a home somewhere.  Apparently MonoGreen Aggro is it.  For those who are not totally familiar, the deck runs a number of smaller, green creatures that sneak in big damage thanks to Shinen of Life's Roar.  The deck also "cheats" in some damage through Silhana Ledgewalker and gets some big, early game plays with the always lovable Basking Rootwalla.  I will admit that every time I see this deck place I am a little surprised because I just don't like it... shows what I know.  

I first saw a showing of this deck using Young Wolf as played by Nightfly who took it 4-0, but shaneberg and larkgu have also pulled in showings with it as well...

MonoGreen Aggro
A Deck By: Nightfly
Creatures
3 Basking Rootwalla
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
3 River Boa
4 Silhana Ledgewalker
4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
3 Wild Mongrel
3 Young Wolf
28 cards

Other Spells
2 Briar Shield
4 Gather Courage
2 Groundswell
4 Rancor
4 Vines of Vastwood
16 cards
Lands
16 Forest
16 cards

Young Wolf

As you can see Young Wolf is a great fit for a deck like this.  It comes into play for cheap and has staying power as it gets bigger once killed.  Most decks end up with those great early game creatures that just kind of get worse as the game progresses.  Thanks to the powers of undying those creatures get to come back just a bit strong in the mid-game.  Not to mention that once again we're navigating a very heavy, anti-creature meta.  While I don't really have a lot to say about this addition it clearly is a powerful addition to the deck.

Dimir Post

When it comes to the addition of Dark Ascension there is a few catches that DimirPost runs into.  The first issue is that it has all of the same problems that can be seen with MUC and IzzetPost in the fact that blue has very little to offer Pauper.  Again the best playing option for creatures would be the Stormbound Geist, but the drawbacks are enough to keep you away when running a very creature light deck like DimirPost.  Black is also a bit creature light in Dark Ascension and what it does offer is not strong enough to be a full time force in this deck type.

The only possible additions that could be made would be within black in the form of Tragic Slip and Undying Evil.  If we first take a look at Undying Evil it seems out of place in a deck that is so creature light.  Most DimirPost decks are only running from 4 to 8 creatures, not enough to allow for Undying Evil to make an impact.  Looking at Tragic Slip, it becomes underpowered in a deck where you can ramp out heavy mana through the post lands.  While there is something to be said from the fact that these decks are running a heavy Mystical Teachings toolbox, I'm not sure any of these make it worth the cut.  The only thing that I would possibly would suggest would be adding a single Undying Evil for the toolbox and even that seems weak in comparison to a single Grim Harvest.

I'm personally a big advocate of the DimirPost deck type, but I would say that it can't really benefit from the addition of Dark Ascension cards.


So you'll notice that I left Rogue decks off the list since it was pretty much a catch all for the remaining decks.  There weren't actually any additions there either, with the only Rogue deck that did have DA cards in it was a MonoBlack Aggro deck played by GuaJiRo (3428152) that used four copies of Undying Evil.  Still waiting for a showing with our new combo, but we'll see if anyone has it.  I have one in the works, but it won't be unveiled until it actually works and works well!


Bonus Content!!!

I'm not a draft writer, but have been doing pretty well so far with the DKA release drafts.  I bought in for three drafts worth of tickets and have currently been able to play in seven drafts with another left to be played.  I have to say I'm really enjoying the mechanics within this set due to the lack of Counterspells and the very tribal centric theme that is ongoing.  I, on occasion, do put up videos on my YouTube channel that are not featured in the articles to be used later as bonus material or for those who may not read my articles.  This is one of those that I put up from a draft I won with a RB deck so I just figured I'd share.  While I've won drafts before its unusual to be able to show off some crazy stuff like drafting (Huntmaster of the Fell) and not running it.  So here you go, a few thoughts from me regarding DKA drafting...


Well I hope that gives you all a better idea as to what additions Dark Ascension can and has made to the current playing environment for competitive Pauper.  I know I like to keep things casual around here, but it seemed a necessary evil to address what changes are occurring to competitive play since you're likely to encounter it even in the more casual environment.  As far as next week, well I'll be honest I still have not decided what will come next!  I have a few different ideas, but am still play testing decks before I put them up for all to see, so you'll just have to come back and find out for yourself!

- JustSin