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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jun 08 2015 11:00am
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The first week (plus) of the Modern Masters 2015 season has come and gone. The trends we saw at the tail end of Dragons of Tarkir have persisted and have terraformed the Pauper landscape. Closing out last season Burn was a force of reckoning, Esper Combo was on a resurgent path, and Mono-Black Control was a popular choice but lacked results reflecting its volume. The first week saw Burn dominate, both in volume and performance while MBC tried to keep pace. Esper Combo was the third most popular choice but made up over one-fifth of all 4-0 reported decklists. Delver, the old boogey man, is notably low in the power rankings.

The baseline deck for the format, despite the numbers, remains Mono-Black Control. Pauper remains a format saturated with creature decks and black is the best in the business at killing creatures. 

Mono-Black Control
4-0 on May 29th, 2015 EtDilts
4 Chittering Rats
4 Cuombajj Witches
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Phyrexian Rager
16 cards

Other Spells
2 Gurmag Angler
3 Chainer's Edict
1 Corrupt
2 Disfigure
3 Geth's Verdict
2 Oubliette
4 Sign in Blood
1 Tendrils of Corruption
3 Victim of Night
21 cards
3 Barren Moor
20 Swamp
23 cards



The current crop of MBC decks have drifted away from Chittering Rats based attrition decks and towards combo-control focused on resolving a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The shift has resulted in some interesting and potentially suboptimal maindeck choices for the current metagame, including Oubliette and Cuombajj Witches.

Cuombajj Witches has long been a concession to Delver. The ability to repeatedly ping small creatures or team up to take down an Insectile Aberration was incredibly valuable in a metagame dominated by blue cards. The fact that the Witches added two black mana symbols to devotion did not hurt at all and what was once a metagame call became a given. When the field was lousy with Delver nothing seemed amiss but now that the tide has shifted the presence of Witches should be called into question.

Oubliette is sorcery speed removal in an increasingly instant speed format. The black Journey to Nowhere caught on around the same time as Gray Merchant of Asphodel because it is removal that sticks around and feeds devotion. On top of that it is conditional and represents a hard to deal with answer. Finally, the card was bugged for the first part of its tournament life and permanently exiled its target, so I imagine there is some holdover from that era. Oubliette is incredibly good in the MBC mirror where it can leech black mana symbols off of an opponent but beyond that the card is now proving to be on the slow side.

So does this mean Mono-Black Control is a bad deck? I do not believe so. MBC has been a staple of the format and has enough tools to be tweaked for just about any metagame. The current common construction is built to fight a non-existent metagame. The lists that continue to place in Daily Events are heavily skewed towards fighting Delver and the mirror. While Swamps are still a popular strategy they are not nearly as popular or potent as they were a few weeks ago. Instead Burn has ascended to the top spot of the metagame.

So how does MBC adapt? Cards like Augur of Skulls and Okiba-Gang Shinobi both represent cards that have utility against MBC, Burn, and Esper Combo. Against red these cards will trade for at least one, if not two (or more) Lightning Bolts saving the MBC player precious life points. In the mirror these push the fight from one of haymakers to pitched resource battle. The discard player in this dynamic does leave themselves vulnerable to topdecked copies of Corrupt but that is a price that must be paid for better positioning against the rest of the field.

The other big player is Esper Combo and in order to fight that menace MBC needs to lean on the discard (both gross like Okiba-Gang Shinobi and pinpoint Duress effects) and cheap instant speed removal to handle Cloud of Faeries. Here Cuombajj Witches may appear helpful but that card is vulnerable to Snap whereas Disfigure is not. Here, MBC needs to shift removal away from Geth’s Verdict, to perhaps two copies, and towards Disfigure and Grasp of Darkness. This may leave MBC more vulnerable to decks like Izzet Blitz and Hexproof, but those decks are not as prevalent at the current  moment.

The result is likely a sleeker version of Mono-Black Control that gives up some long game topdeck power in exchange for being able to fight the format on its current terms of turns one through four. 

4-0 on June 2nd, 2015 ThatResolves
4 Keldon Marauders
   4 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
4 Fireblast
4 Incinerate
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Needle Drop
4 Rift Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
2 Searing Spear
  38 cards
2 Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain
18 cards

Keldon Marauders


For whatever reason Burn as asserted itself as the defining deck of the format. What originally started as a way to win before Gray Merchant of Asphodel could seal the deal, Burn has sustained its success the better part of a month. Considering this deck is nothing but Lightning Bolt variants, that is an incredibly feat.

Burn succeeds because it is incredibly redundant. Look at the list above - aside from Needle Drop every card is basically Lightning Bolt. Curse of the Pierced Heart may look slow but as an enchantment it can generate a ton of value - give it three turns and it is already on par with Incinerate. Looking at the Dragons of Tarkir season results only one deck, White Weenie Tokens, had any incidental life gain, and that deck was a fringe player at best.

The lifegain, of course, is key to surviving against Burn. Earlier in Dragons of Tarkir, White Weenie Tokens was a force of reckoning and Burn was not nearly as strong as it has been recently. As other decks adapt and we see more life gain (including gain lands), I fully expect Burn to return to its normal levels.


Boros Tokens presents an interesting update on the token strategy and manages to incorporate an absolute gamebreaker against damage based decks in Conclave Phalanx. I have long been a fan of adding burn spells to Tokens for additional reach and red provides some of the very best in the game while also providing help against Affinity (another former major player) with Gorilla Shaman. 

Esper Combo, the deck that wins by using the Familiar from Planeshift to reduce the cost of Cloud of Faeries and Snap, and then cycle Ghostly Flicker through Cloud and Mnemonic Wall to generate nigh infinite mana and then a similar number of enters-the-battlefield triggers on Sage’s Row Denizen (or more recently, Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Bloodhunter Bat for a life based kill) is still here. The deck has no natural predator but can be held in check by lots of targeted removal and overloaded discard. While I am not sure what specific hate can enter the format to help fight Cloud of Faerie based combo, I am optimistic that Gut Shot will help but nothing has killed Esper yet, so it’s wait and see. 

The last two decks I want to talk about today round out the top 5. The first is Dimir Delver. The go to deck for Gurmag Angler when Treasure Cruise was legal, the deck has seen a second life now. Dimir Delver runs an incredibly density of good cards while being able to present one of the better threats in the format in the form of a Zombie Fish. Finally, it takes advantage of Thought Scour and Mental Note by pairing the duo with both Brainstorm and Accumulated Knowledge for some two card combos that actually help to drive the deck forward.  

Dimir Delver
4-0 on June 2nd, 2015 DarkHellkite
4 Delver of Secrets
2 Sultai Scavenger
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Dismal Backwater
4 Gurmag Angler
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Agony Warp
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Deprive
4 Ghastly Demise
2 Gitaxian Probe
4 Mental Note
2 Miscalculation
4 Thought Scour
42 cards
1 Dimir Guildgate
8 Island
3 Swamp
12 cards

Delver of Secrets

The above version is a bit aggressive with its mana base, but maintains a solid core. Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler are a serious offensive suite suitable for Modern and Legacy, and here we have them in Pauper. The ability to leverage Ghastly Demise is also a reason to play this deck. I can imagine Dimir Delver seeing continued success if it can somehow gain enough life to combat burn. 

4-0 on May 31st, 2015 punninglinguist
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Jackal Familiar
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Mogg Raider
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Sparksmith
36 cards

Other Spells
2 Goblin Heelcutter
4 Lightning Bolt
6 cards
18 Mountain
18 cards


Goblins originally rose to prominence as a way to fight Tendrils of Corruption with Goblin Sledder. Today it succeeds in part because of Death Spark fighting small creatures and a stellar sideboard. Goblins is able to combat Affinity with Gorilla Shaman and Smash to Smithereens, Esper with Death Spark and Raze, and other aggressive decks (like Burn) with Sylvok Lifestaff. Simply put Goblins is well positioned.

Goblins, despite predating the archetype, is an Aristocrats style deck. It can go reasonably wide with Mogg War Marshal and other cheap threats. Thanks to Foundry Street Denizen, Mogg Raider, and Goblin Sledder, it can also go tall with a single threat. Goblin Bushwhacker makes it capable of winning from a position of perceived weakness. 

So this is where we stand. One week (and a little more) and Pauper has taken on an entirely different texture. The exciting part is that once held truths, including the dominance of Delver, are no longer absolutes. If people keep adapting, the metagame will continue to adjust. 

And that is a good thing. 

Keep slingin’ commons-

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