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By: JustSin, Dave
Jun 28 2012 7:17am
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Life Gain Matters

This is the first week where we're going to be missing out on my beloved Competitive Corner.  With the reduction in Pauper Daily Events, it really seems right to only be putting up the information bi-weekly.  Instead I present you with an article that isn't specific to one card or mechanic!  This week I want to talk about the importance of life gain in Pauper.

I had first talked about how nuts life gain can be within Pauper back when I wrote the article talking about the current Banned and Restricted list.  There are several deck lists already in existence that really hit this idea home...

One word.  Glimmerpost.

It is hands-down the biggest offender when it comes to life gain gone wild.  When it comes to putting down the eighth of the post lands you will go up eight life on top of the additional life you've already gained from previous Glimmerpost plays.  What always makes this more frustrating is the fact that the post lands are usually paired with blue mana, which allows the person running the deck many opportunities to bounce this land in order to get even more life gain!  That not enough for you?  Then let's move on to the Ravnica bounce duals that also give the player an opportunity to get another play out of Glimmerpost.  What the Izzet and DimirPost decks do best is to stall for time.  They build up life, they counter your spells, and sit back until they draw one of their win conditions (typically 3 out of 60 cards).  This makes games slow and boring, but you know what?  It works.

The other thing that always came up when discussing the power of the post lands was the fact that they opened the doors for any deck to be put together with the post foundation and be successful.  I had discussed this in another article and if you're subscribed to me on YouTube I am putting up occasional, special edition videos exploring other color options.  I don't want to go into a lot of details since I spent an entire article talking about it, but do go read about it because the post lands have really opened the doors for making the most ridiculous ideas work.  I can't even imagine the chaos that would be caused by a full set of the 8-post lands in addition to Vesuva....

Personally I felt the posts would get much worse with the recent AVR release thanks to Ghostly Flicker.  This card is awesome and yet has seen minimal play on a competitive level.  The best thing about Ghostly Flicker is perhaps the fact that it enables a player to blink things other than just creatures, Glimmerposts for example.  Imagine using Ghostly Flicker to blink two Glimmerposts with all eight posts in play to simultaneously gain 8 life on each of the blinked Glimmerposts.

I don't think anyone can argue that Glimmerpost works as the most efficient card for gaining life in Pauper, but we can go way beyond that...

Essence WardenSoul WardenSoul's AttendantSuture Priest

Oh all the life gain options we see, the sisters are perhaps the second most prevalent of the choices.  Suture Priest is almost a standalone, where it is usually seen in only some versions of MonoWhite Aggro, but it has a great extra ability by causing life loss in addition to life gain.  The other three sisters are often seen together and have made a stand with their own deck in even a format like Pauper.  If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, it is a deck that has seen spots showing up on Daily Events that I've listed as "GW Tokens".  Still don't know what I'm talking about?  Take a look...

The deck, as you can see, revolves around getting a lot of these single-costed sisters into play and using their ability in order to abuse the creation of tokens and finding killer life.  I'm a big fan of this deck because it does a lot of really cool things.  The first part is the fact it can gain crazy life, but then it brings in all of these enchantments and defense pumpers to give you a crazy army of 1/x tokens.  With the recent influx of Storm decks in the current meta, I can see something like this taking off.

Take a look at the match for a minute.  In most cases the earliest that Storm is going to be able to go off can be 3 (yes it does go off two, but I imagine that on average the earliest turn most frequently accomplished is three).  That gives you three turns to drop at least three sisters and now they're in an awkward situation.  One sister means that each goblin token that is generated off of Empty the Warrens gives you +1 life so they need to work twice as hard.  Now imagine having three sisters out, +3 life on each goblin token, and they storm... talk about a mathematical nightmare!

Now I do realize that this is less awesome when it comes to the storming of Grapeshot, but there are still opportunities to cause big issues for that storm as well by delaying the opponent's ability to "go off" and finish you in one turn until you find that Prismatic Strands or some other answer.  The one version of storm you would have to watch for is the one that actually brings in Lava Dart, which adds to their count and owns your sisters.  Another key feature to this deck?  Rune of Protection: Green.  Don't get it?  Well I'm going to let you mull that one over.

The only thing I would say here is that if you are going to be taking this to a DE then make sure you have lots of practice.  There are lots of things to know about this deck from interactions, playable hands, and most importantly time management.

There are also a handful of other life gain creatures out there that we run into during competitive play and make a good argument for the power of gaining life...

Armadillo Cloak
Used mostly in the Hexproof deck, but it has always been one if not the most powerful enchantment available in Pauper.

Aven Riftwatcher
Found in the RebelPost deck as well as a few variants of Teachings and other JunkPost decks.

This bomb of a card has been the reason for MBCs existence through the years (though yes there have been some recent MBC lists without it).  This card has enable MBC decks in all formats to dominate opponents and create big swings in momentum.

Tendrils of Corruption
Another black staple that has allowed MBC decks to gain significant life off of a kill not to mention the ability to kill large things!

Lone Missionary
This guy has weaseled his way into several decks using white because of his ability to gain big life for a little cost.

There are so many ways to gain life that we don't even notice because the gain is so menial or the play is so common.  The basic idea when focusing on life gain is always to stall for time until you can pull out that oh so important win.  As I was thinking over this whole idea of gaining life, I realized that there was also the added bonus of not having to worry about blocking creatures.  "Sure attack, do 20 life, see if I care.  I'm at 50 and have a million and one ways to gain more!"  It just had to happen.

I wanted to make a deck that was so focused on gaining life, that it cared little about doing anything else!  I wanted almost every card in the deck to have something to do with gaining life... from the creatures to the spells to even the lands and I felt that AVR has given us a great starting point for this!

Seraph of Dawn

There were three new commons printed in AVR that tied in both life gain as well as this whole Angel mechanic.  Adding in Seraph Sanctuary and Scroll of Avacyn gives us an opening for the use of the only other angel worth playing in Pauper...

Avian Changeling

Sure there are some actual Angels in Pauper, but their size in relation to their casting cost is stupid or they are just so unimportant, they do just nothing other than being a body, or just simply aren't worth playing!  A little bit frustrating, but we've got other creatures that have plenty of life to give us.

Lifegain Matters
A Deck By: JustSin
4 Aven Riftwatcher
4 Avian Changeling
4 Lone Missionary
4 Martyr of Sands
16 cards

Other Spells
4 Cloudshift
2 Journey to Nowhere
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Renewed Faith
4 Scroll of Avacyn
4 Seraph of Dawn
4 Seraph Sanctuary
26 cards
4 Kabira Crossroads
10 Plains
4 Secluded Steppe
18 cards
Seraph of Dawn

In order to get more card draw in yet another non-blue deck, I brought in the life gain cycler of Renewed Faith and even Secluded SteppeKabira Crossroads gives us more life gain through our lands.  The only thing we could do in order to gain more life from our lands would be to add a full set of Glimmerpost (no Cloudposts just Glimmerposts).  Cloudshift was brought in to keep the Aven Riftwatchers alive when their counters finally reach the end of their days as well as protecting your creatures from an opponent's kill spells.  I also brought in Oblivion Rings and Journey to Nowheres in order to make the deck feel more like a serious deck and not just an experiment to see if a bunch of random life gain cards thrown together into a deck can win games.

Here's the deck video...

Example Game 1
Playing Against: Storm
Video Link: Click Here!

Opening Hand:
PlainsKabira CrossroadsKabira CrossroadsSecluded SteppeSecluded SteppePlainsAven Riftwatcher

This is a seemingly awful hand since it contains only a single non-land card.  I decide, in a bold move, to actually keep this hand and play it out since I have two Secluded Steppes, which give me added opportunity to draw into something playable.  Because we're able to gain stupid amounts of life with this deck we can keep a hand like this and not worry too much about our opponent getting a fast start.  My opponent's first play is to drop Geothermal Crevice, which immediately shouts "storm".  This means I have to gain as much life as I can to keep putting his win out of reach.  Turn three I decided to draw cards instead of playing an Aven Riftwatcher so I cycle a Renewed Faith and a Secluded Steppe.  Over the next two turns I put out back-to-back Aven Riftwatchers with a Cloudshift in hand to protect them or give me more life then my opponent thinks I have.  It isn't until about turn 6 that my opponent plays his first set of spells, but has no storm spell at the end of them.  I blink my Aven Riftwatcher that is about to die an put a Lone Missionary into play, which now puts me at 38 life for my opponent to try and storm against.  The next turn my opponent again goes through a number of spells, but has no storm.  Oddly, on the following turn my opponent casts a Grapeshot on my Lone Missionary, which makes me wonder why he couldn't storm earlier.  In response I make a stupid move and cast Cloudshift at the wrong time leaving me with a dead Lone Missionary and giving my opponent an extra copy of Grapeshot on the storm.  Eventually I do enough damage to finish my opponent without him having cast a significant storm once.

Example Game 2
Playing Against: Goblins
Video Link: Click Here!

Opening Hand:
Martyr of SandsLone MissionarySecluded SteppeSecluded SteppeKabira CrossroadsOblivion RingPlains

Not a bad starting hand with four lands available for play and options to get some quick draw going off of the Secluded Steppes.  My opponent gets a usually fast start for Goblins with Goblin Cohort and Mogg Conscripts.  I had made an early mistake in this game by first cycling a Secluded Steppe and then putting a Martyr of Sands into play, which did not leave me mana open to use the Martyr's ability when my opponent targeted it with a Death Spark.  The following turn I continue to draw lands with my Secluded Steppes and make sure that when I put my new Martyr of Sands into play, I've left myself mana open for using the ability.  The following turn my opponent drops a Martyr of Ashes and activates it, forcing me to use mine to go up to 29 life.  My next turn I use Renewed Faith and Lone Missionary to keep my life total sky high.  The continued use of Death Spark gives me some trouble keeping creatures on the board, but I have no need to block with so much life.  I continue to stall through some Oblivion Ring removal until I get an Aven Riftwatcher into play and can start doing at least some damage to my opponent.  Creature trading continues and I keep the Aven Riftwatcher around with Cloudshift until I reach a point where I have to crack Scroll of Avacyn for a card draw without even having an Angel.  Eventually I draw into a Seraph of Dawn to stabilize my board.  The air attacks continue until I get my opponent down to 10 and he simply concedes to my ridiculous life (31 at the end of game).

Example Game 3
Playing Against: GBW Aggro
Video Link: Click Here!

Opening Hand:
Scroll of AvacynLone MissionarySeraph SanctuaryAvian ChangelingSeraph SanctuaryPlainsAven Riftwatcher

Finally getting a hand that can show the interactions with the Angels.  I get a great start with turn 1 Scroll of Avacyn, turn 2 Lone Missionary, and turn 3 Avian Changeling, which triggers my two Seraph Sanctuarys.  My opponent starts by using Paralyze on my Angel of sorts, but I can still get the bonus from my Scroll of Avacyn.  I'm eventually able to clear off the Paralyze with Cloudshift, which once again activates my Seraph Sanctuarys once again.  My opponent gets out a Driver of the Dead, which I assume was to interact with his Heart Warden so I use Oblivion Ring to get it off the board without activating its ability.  My opponent's response?  Puts out a Wickerbough Elder in order to get back his Driver of the Dead.  The next few turns are simply building up life and creatures until a point where I block an attack while at 39 life and my opponent "disconnects".  *Sigh*

Well as an experiment I'd say the deck was successful.  The results are simple.  You really can build a deck that is completely focused on gaining stupid amounts of life and be successful with it.  Now there are many ways in which you could change this deck if you wanted to make it more serious, more tuned.  One great suggestion was made to me of bringing in Squadron Hawks, which would work great with the Martyr of Sands.  There are also a lot of options you can play with when it comes to switching around your control options.  While I opted for Oblivion Rings and Journey to Nowheres, these are pretty fragile options and are useless against anyone running enchantment removal options.  Instead you can opt for more permanent removal types such as Unmake.

There is one real reason why heavy life gain decks don't run wild in competitive play...

Yep.  Infect is a game mechanic that could care less about you gaining life.  In fact, they don't care so much that they are willing to help you gain life!  Infect's power comes in the fact that it only has to hit an opponent 10 times to win and completely negates life gain, which I won't go into again.  Playing Glimmerposts?  Infect doesn't care.  Gain as much life as you want because in the end it won't matter.  The idea goes back to the rock-paper-scissors concept, as there is no one strategy that does not have an answer and something to keep in mind as you let creatures attack freely.

I do recommend taking the deck out (or something similar) because it is a lot of fun gaining stupid amounts of life.  Next week we're going to be back with our Competitive Corner and I'm going to be taking a look at a deck with a few more new cards from AVR!

- JustSin


I built the deck and it's by Psychobabble at Sun, 07/01/2012 - 18:11
Psychobabble's picture

I built the deck and it's really fun to play, regularly sitting on 40+ life is pretty crazy. The value you get out of cloudshift in the deck is really nice and seraph is a beating for a lot of decks. The games do tend to go a long time though! I've also had a couple of people drop after the first game in a match so I'm guessing it's not so fun to play against (esp for mono red :).

On some of the card choices, would you think suture priest is better than lone missionary? i thought the missionary would be a good cloudpost target, but it turns out there's always a better choice, whether it's resetting riftwatcher or protecting seraph of dawn (and getting more sanctuary lifegain in the process). The priest seems to have the potential to give an almost equivalent amount of lifegain over the course of the match (subject to removal), as well as being the nuts vs storm and doing good damage in any creature matchup. Also I've found a couple of matchups (WW with their own lifegain, MBC) where I really wanted a late game finisher, especially if they've got a kor skyfisher out that can brick your attacks. So for this, I've included a singleton guardian of the guildpack and another in the sideboard. I considered Ulamog's crusher, but I figure that guardian at least has a chance of staying on the board vs capsize (dunno if the post matchup is just unwinaable though) so I've gone with that. Games go long and you cycle a lot, so a singleton finisher is ok I think.

As for the sideboard, currently running something like:

4x Rune of Protection: green
3x Divine Offering (more flavour than optimal!)
2x Holy Light
1x Guardian of the Guildpact
1x Oblivion ring
4x Squadron Hawks (give more aggro options vs stall games like WW, MBC, post)

If I was going to put any money into the deck, I guess I could replace the hawks with standard bearers - 8 near autowin cards vs infect should make the matchup winnable I think.

Oh, and sylvok lifestaff is another pauper life gain card that sees a decent amount of play in various sideboards.

glad you're enjoying it! the by JustSin at Mon, 07/02/2012 - 12:37
JustSin's picture

glad you're enjoying it!

the priest could be a decent trade for the missionary because, as you said, there are often times where it would be a better choice... I can see the need for a stronger beat in this deck, but the point was just to pack it with as much lifegain as I could and see if that was enough to win.. there are several choices to really beef it up, but I don't think crusher would be one because of its cost

You have no idea how by 53N531 at Mon, 07/02/2012 - 20:59
53N531's picture

You have no idea how satisfying it is to come back to the game 2-3 years after working on that archetype for months with my clanmates and seeing articles about it.