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By: zebhillard, Zebiriah Ray Hillard
Dec 11 2018 1:00pm
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Hyperbole?  I would like to think not, but I have been wrong in the past.

If you did not know, there is a new Masters set, and several cards have had their previous rarity changed.  Now, Pauper players do not really care about what becomes more expensive because once it has been common a single time, it is fair game to play.  The important part is when things are shifted down to that little Black expansion symbol when they were previously Silver or Gold.

Every Masters Set and supplemental product has included a few notable cards that have their rarity jostled, but in my personal opinion I don’t think any will be as disruptive to the Pauper format as Ultimate Masters.  (Fire/Ice) and Foil are both going to be legal at Common, and the format’s Best Deck Type just got better by a country mile.

“What?!” you ask.  “Foil is a 1 for 3, and Fire/Ice is just two color Forked Bolt!!” you cry into the winds.

I’ve had much less playtime with Fire/Ice than Foil so my words about it are just theory-craft, but increasing UR Delvers game against Elves at minimal cost in the maindeck is surely a plus, and the ability to tap down a blocker or shut off an attacker from UB Delver can win you the tempo mirror and put you ahead while backed with Lightning Bolts to finish your opponent off.

But the real elephant in my room right now is Foil.


Now, on its own, Foil is…usually lackluster.  Having to discard an Island as well as an additional card to pay its alternate cost is fairly back-breaking, but Pauper has something going for it that only the oldest format has.


If you haven’t read it, Steven Menendian’s digital door stopper “Understanding Gush” is an excellent place to begin understanding the power of the card.  The work was written with Vintage in mind, but we can draw a considerable number of parallels between the information so wonderfully laid out by Steven and see their patterns in Pauper.  Instead of generating constant card filtering by using it and Dack Fayden though, Gush transforms Foil from “Discard 2, Counter Target Spell” into “Return 2 Islands, Draw 2 Cards, Counter Target Spell.”

For a deck that can operate quite well on 3 lands, and that has upwards of 18 cantrips (including 4 Brainstorm and 3 Gush) and 4 creatures that help find those cantrips, you often have times where you draw considerably more land than you will actually need.

That number is three, by the way.  Two Islands to pay for Gush or hardcast Counterspell, and one Swamp to cast your Gurmag Angler and removal spells.  You generally put anything extra back on the top of your library with Brainstorm, and then see it shuffled away with pauper fetches or put into the graveyard with castings of Thought Scour and/or Mental Note.  Operating on such a low manabase while still being able to deploy constant threats and churn through your library with the high number of cantrips gives you almost unparalleled velocity for the format.

This is amplified when you have the opportunity to tap out even more to cast threats, and your opponent can’t rely on only leaving mana up to pay for Daze, Foil gives bluff options that didn’t exist before, and allows the Delver player to push an already strong tempo advantage even further.

The deck I first tested Foil in looked like this:

Delver of Secrets
Gurmag Angler
Augur of Bolas

Thought Scour
Gitaxian Probe
Mental Note
Ghastly Demise

Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Ash Barrens

The manabase and list of creatures should look very familiar for anyone that has played Delver in Pauper.  I trimmed removal and included Foil though, to act as a preemptive solution to problematic cards and it worked out fairly well in testing.  Foil lets you play much more aggressively with your first threat and means you don’t need to wait for an Augur of Bolas to be in play before you run our a Gurmag Angler out of fear of multiple edict effects with just a single Daze in hand.  UB Delver now plays much more like UB Shadow in Legacy than other lists with an exceptionally strong tempo game, large number of free and/or cheap counterspells, and threats that can end the game exceptionally quickly.

Delver of SecretsGurmag AnglerAugur of Bolas

I did notice a few oversights and things that should be changed.  With Foil added to the mix, your graveyard fills up faster than before, so six Thought Scour effects is unnecessary.  Two of these can be cut without any real negative impact and replaced with more direct cantrips despite how well they work with Brainstorm.  An additional Gitaxian Probe and Preordain will be in my next listing, though I am considering just the Gitaxian Probe and an additional creature like Sultai Scavenger to have another way to use the cards that are being tossed into the graveyard, or even a fourth removal spell like Snuff Out or Vapor Snag.

I’ll be playing out quite a few more games with this in paper until Ultimate Masters goes live on MODO, and then I’ll be running games with it then and cataloging results moving forward with different Foil-Gush-Delver builds.  Hopefully, if there is enough interest, said results will be posted here moving forward.  At the very worst, I’ll have a few months of fun before Gush ends up getting banned due to format ubiquity, and how strong it is in combination with Foil.  I do hope it sticks around, though, because Tribe and other “fair combo decks” using Gush are in relative need of the spell while Foil is a very niche inclusion for decks in the format.

TLDR Verion, play Foil and more copies of Gush if you’re playing Delver.  Free counterspells plus delver is an ages old strategy that has never been ‘bad’ and only gets better when you are playing even more free counterspells.


I faced Foil in tournament, by jcf at Tue, 12/11/2018 - 18:20
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I faced Foil in tournament, of course it is a strong card, but I don't think it is format warping strong. There are answers in the metagame like Pyroblast and Dispel that make Foil a bit risky, also casting it early can really hurt the mana base. I think the card is here to stay, but I don't think Gush will be banned or anything like that. What I do have to wonder is why they give even more tools to the already strongest color

This. Yeah Foil is great, as by JXClaytor at Tue, 12/11/2018 - 23:37
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This. Yeah Foil is great, as is Fire and Ice...but Blue didn't really need anymore help in Pauper.

Blue by zebhillard at Wed, 12/12/2018 - 08:21
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I think this will be a realization that comes over time when more competitive league results filter in. I don't think Ux Delver is the best deck in Pauper, but all of the best cards in the format are definitely the blue ones.

Risk by zebhillard at Wed, 12/12/2018 - 08:19
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When the person casting Foil also has Hydro for Pyro, and Dispel as well, it mitigates some of the risk. I've played 3 full leagues now with Foil being legal and have only once had it cause mana issues in the long game, and that was midgame in a Game 3 where I kept a shakey 6 and Scry'd to the bottom. Any other time, it's been a release valve to get me out of tight spots.

The numbers on the list I put above are off, though, and I've been working with it before joining league number 4. I'll have it all revised and worked through more thoroughly by the time I submit my next go, but short story is that 3 is too many copies, I think two may be the perfect amount.

I am starting to wonder how by jcf at Wed, 12/12/2018 - 09:47
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I am starting to wonder how much fun it would to try Foil in a madness deck. We already have Circular Logic, imagine Foil putting Basking Rootwalla in play, good times! Gotta try that someday. ^^

I did some testing with UG by zebhillard at Wed, 12/12/2018 - 09:48
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I did some testing with UG Madness/Threshold a while ago, it may be time to revisit it with another enabler. With Werebear, Rootwalla, Circular Logic, Wild Mongrel, there are possibilities.