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By: jcf, Jose Freitas
Nov 26 2019 2:00pm
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Hello my friends, it's been a while I know. Lately I have been struggling a bit to find time to write. Also, we had Arcum's Astrolabe winter (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) and that metagame wasn't exactly favorable for brewing. Astrolabe was way to strong for the Pauper format, basically obligating you to brew around it or have a list that felt really underpowered in the metagame, with Snow Jeskai clearly miles away from everything else. This wasn't compelling to me. Often I brew to find fun and unusual decks, but to be fun, a deck must have at least some chance to win. Feeling like the underdog every game you play isn't usually enjoyable. I am honestly glad Astrolabe got banned, I feel the metagame is much better for brewing right now, with decks having more defined identities and a heavier cost to use all five colors in your deck. This is healthy for the format, I don't think every deck having easy access to five colors is a good thing for Pauper.

Today I am not playing a brew, it is more of a personal tune on a strategy that is already there. 

This is not a traditional MBC list. The most established strategy for the archetype goes devotion path, capitalizing on the powerful combination of cards like Cuombajj Witches, Chittering Rats and Grey Merchant of Asphodel, to soft control the board and eventually draining big chunks of life for the win.

But we are aiming for something different here, we are trying to maximize monarchy, meaning we are doing everything we can to keep the board clear of opposing creatures, often not caring very much about ours.

I wouldn't call this a new approach, there are both Rakdos and Monoblack lists available seeking to be the Monarch on an empty board, here we have a nice 5-0 list from Pauper streamer Deluxeicoff.

The novelty here is finally having access to Spinning Darkness, a card I absolutely love from good old days and - while Pauper legal for a long time - it has been bugged until not very long  ago. This year they fixed it. The card fits like a glove inside this strategy allowing us to abuse cheap card draw like Sign in Blood and Night's Whisper while holding opponent's creatures and recouping some life for no mana.

I expect this strategy to be generally good against creature based decks: Goblins, Faeries, Elves, RDW, MGA and even Bogles.I think it might have some trouble against direct damage like Fling and Atog and Burn, I expect a lot of trouble against Flicker Control lists like Tron and Esper Familiars.

So, to mitigate that, the sideboard provides a mix of disruption and land destruction while we have some life gain maindeck. Hopefully we'll meet primarily creature based decks, but the sideboard can at least try to change our main focus.

The Deck:

As you can see, we have bunch of cheap removal to hold the early game. Innocent Blood is fine at any point since we don't care very much about sacrificing our creatures as long as opponent has none. Dimir House Guard acts as a versatile tutor, helping us to become a despot, grabbing some life gain or mass removal if necessary. The deck aims heavily on becoming the Monarch, so having a "fifth" Thorn of the Black Rose feels right. 

Crypt Rats act both as mass removal and our main win condition, as long as we manage to gain some life with Pristine Talisman(s), we can recur Crypt Rats with Witch's Cottage, dealing tons of damage on the long run. Let's try it and see what happens!

The League:

Match 1: Dark Monarch against Affinity.

Game 1:

We start with a decent starting hand with three lands, some removal and card draw. Opponent has a relatively slow start for Affinity, with Frogmite on their second turn meeting Defile. By turn five our removal ends and they manage to keep Atog and Myr Enforcer in play. We manage to topdeck Tendrils of Corruption, killing Atog and recouping our life total. By turn seven we manage to cast Thorn of the Black Rose and opponent has no creatures on their side, so things start to look better. Drawing two cards per turn, gaining life with Pristine Talisman and killing everything they cast is enough and opponent scoops it up.

 Tendrils of Corruption Killing Atog 
Tendrils of Corruption about to kill Atog and recoup some life

Game 2:

Sideboarding, I decide to add a couple Duress replacing Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Dimir House Guard. I believe discarding Fling or even Thoughtcast is more important than slowly gaining life late game.

Our starting hand is a bit risky, with just Chainer's Edict for removal and a lot of card draw but I decide to go for it.

Opponent mulligans to six and starts well with land and Springleaf Drum, but they don't have a second land or castable spells to follow up. We manage to develop while they are stuck for a couple turns. We draw Duress hitting Thoughtcast. They manage to draw land and cast Prophetic Prism by turn four but we are far ahead at that point already. They dig for Atog and Fling combo but we manage to kill them by turn twelve blowing up Crypt Rats for eight damage after a couple attacks.


Match 2: Dark Monarch against Burn.

Game 1:

After a mulligan we start with a good hand with some removal, card draw and Thorn of the Black Rose. Opponent starts with Mountain, burn is terrible for us. We manage to kill their turn two Thermo-Alchemist and we also draw Ill-Gotten Inheritance, so this is good news. Turn four I sacrifice Crypt Rats just to reach three black cards in graveyard and cast Spinning Darkness on their second Thermo-Alchemist. Nothing we do is enough, opponent keeps burning our head while we can't interact and kills us turn six with a final Fireblast.

Filling graveyard for Spinning Darkness 
Casting and blowing up Crypt Rats for one just to fill the graveyard and being able to cast Spinning Darkness

Game 2:

I side out the draw spells that eat life and side in land destruction hoping to disrupt their mana base enough to keep them from properly casting spells. We start well with Duress and land destruction, they manage to cast Firebrand Archer and we have no answer, while we manage to destroy their both mountains.

Turn six, we cast Thorn of The Black Rose hoping it can block the Archer. They manage to kill Thorn and steal monarchy, but we destroy their last land and they can't really cast the extra cards they draw.

We manage to kill Archer and start to gain life with Pristine Talismans, by turn eleven we use Witch's Cottage on Thorn of The Black Rose to steal monarchy back next turn. That is enough and opponent scoops it up.

Game 3:

We have a decent starting hand with removal and Pristine Talisman. Opponent has a blazing fast start, reducing our life to twelve with two burn spells and Ghitu Lavamancer. We manage to kill Ghitu and cast Pristine, but opponent keeps burning our head and easily wins sealing the deal with Fireblast.

Match 3: Dark Monarch against Simic Urza.

Game 1:

We mulligan to a good hand with removal and Thorn of The Black Rose. Opponent plays one Urza land and I hope the land destruction sideboard plan works. They quickly finish the UrzaTron and cast Mulldrifter while we manage to kill it and cast Thorn obtaining monarchy. Not a good match but at least it won't be easy for them to steal monarchy since they probably have a low creature density in the deck.

We keep killing their creatures and they keep drawing more cards with Mulldrifter, by turn six they cast Ulamog's Crusher and I ran out of answers, next turn they double Firebolt my Thorn and steal monarchy with with the Crusher. By turn seven I scoop feeling there wasn't way out anymore. 

Ulamog's Crushing 
Flashbacked Firebolt, killing my Thorn and opening the way for opponent's Ulamog to steal monarchy.

Game 2:

We add the whole Sideboard to the deck, changing the game plan a bit. I move out some of the creature removal and lifegain, keeping the draw spells in the deck. I also bring Duress to clear possible counterspells out of opponent's hand before land destruction spells.

We have a terrible start, mulligan twice to five cards. In the end I keep a good five with two lands and three land destruction spells, it might work as long as we draw our third land. The third land actually comes from the top and we manage to destroy three lands. Opponent takes a while to draw more land and we manage to become monarch. We have a lot of trouble to find a good kill condition, but opponent scoops on turn fifteen as we keep blowing up more and more lands.

Blowing Land 
Destroying the first Urza land in the game.

Game 3:

We have a very good starting hand with card draw and land destruction, opponent has natural tron but we keep blowing up more and more lands. By turn seven we cast the fifth land destruction spell in a row. Turn eight I cast Thorn hoping to draw more LD. Opponent blows Relic of Progenitus digging for more lands, but at this point they have four Urza's Power Plant in their graveyard. That means they can't get those back with Pulse of Murasa for the rest of the game making things a lot easier for us.

We still have trouble to find a kill condition, by turn twelve we cast the second Thorn of the Black Rose setting up to deal two damage per turn (yay). But as we keep blowing up lands, opponent scoops.

Match 4: Dark Monarch against Goblins.

Game 1:

We have a good starting hand against creatures with some removal and one Ill-Gotten Inheritance, opponent starts with Mogg Conscripts, so at least we are playing against a creature deck. Opponent is stuck at one land as we keep blowing up creatures, Crypt Rats helps to wipe the board on their E.O.T. setting up to cast Thorn next turn obtaining monarchy by turn five. They eventually manage to steal monarchy from us with some haste creatures, but double Ill-Gotten does some work and they get drained to death before they can turn things around.

Blowing Rats 
Holding ctrl: multiple activations of Crypt Rats are capable of killing the extra token from Mogg War Marshall's ability.

Game 2:

I sideboard in Duress, hoping to rip burn spells from their hand, taking out Dimir House Guard and Ill-Gotten (possibly a mistake).

We start with a slow hand with lands but almost no removal so I mulligan. We have a good six, killing everything that moves in the early turns. Opponent casts Mogg War Marshal and we have no Crypt Rats, so killing the tokens is a problem. By turn five I cast Thorn, but we lose monarchy next turn and things don't look good at all. As opponent draws extra cards and I have no answers. I scoop.

Game 3:

I decide to be more careful with monarchy. Start with a mulligan to six, with some card draw and removal, not a bad hand. We Innocent Blood their Goblin Cohort we have Sign in Blood and Spinning Darkness, so I am feeling good.

We are stuck at three lands for a while, unable to cast Thorn, but we keep killing every creature they cast so things doesn't look so bad. We eventually manage to draw lands and keep the board clear, but that requires multiple Crypt Rats and at some point they start to burn our head. I draw more and more draw spells that cost life and I can't cast them, opponent ends up winning with an attack that forces me to blow Crypt Rats going to four life and they burn me with Fireblast.

Match 5: Dark Monarch against Stompy.

Game 1:

We have a good starting hand with removal and Pristine Talisman. Opponent mulligans to five and casts with Nest Invader, making our Chainer's Edict bad, but I draw Crypt and by turn four it blows the whole board. Slowly gaining life with Pristine Talisman, we keep drawing more and more removal and another Crypt Rat starts to attack, eventually we get monarchy and they never stick any creature on the board.

Game 2:

I side in Duress and have one in starting hand. They start with Nettle Sentinel, we draw Chainer's Edict and cast Duress taking Vines of Vastwood. They get a bit mana hosed, with only two lands, we hit Nettle with Chainer's and a following River Boa with Spinning Darkness. We keep killing creatures after drawing one billion removal spells, by turn eleven we finally find Thorn obtaining monarchy, opponent ends up scooping.

Final Result: 3-2. 

Affinity: 2-0.

Burn: 1-2.

Simic Urza Tron: 2-1.

Goblins: 1-2.

Stompy: 2-0.

Overall I am happy with the result. 3-2 is not bad at all considering this is the first time I played with this deck competitively. I felt the list could use more life gain or maybe more effective kill conditions, both times we lost we had trouble against direct burn. But I am glad the alternate plan - blowing up lands - worked, giving us a decent chance against Urza and other control decks. A match that is almost unwinnable for this deck before sideboard.

Losing to Goblins was a bit frustrating, I thought it should be a favorable match for this deck. But honestly, this deck felt stronger than I thought at first. I think it has a lot of potential. I feel it could use more life gain and maybe a faster kill condition. Maybe just more life gain is enough since Crypt Rats can kill quite fast if you have a higher life total than your opponent. Beating Urza was impressive. It is one of the strongest decks in the format and usually hard to beat with midrange strategies, but the combination of card draw and land destruction from sideboard did some work for us.

If you are feeling killing everything your opponent plays is fun: play this deck! You will have a good time.

See you next article!