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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Jun 21 2017 12:00pm
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With newly published decklists every day, our beloved format is in a healthy state of ebb and flow. We see new technology grafted into popular and familiar decks. We’re seeing hybridized decks like Grixis Metalcraft and Hex/Box. We’re seeing old favorites pop back up for their day in the sun.  

But in the midst of all that innovation, it's beneficial to know the most popular decks in the Pauper metagame so that you know the tools and the tactics you need to have your best shot.


Last week we covered the silver bullets and strategies to face five of the most popular decks in the current Pauper format: Izzet Delver, Stompy, Affinity, Tron, and Bogles.


This week we’re going to discuss the tools you need to face the next tier of decks as well: Burn, Dimir Flicker, Boros Midrange, Izzet Blitz, and Elves.


1. Burn


Lava Spike Fireblast

Burn can act as the “fun police” of the format by utilizing what Mike Flores calls “The Philosophy of Fire” - defining the speed of the format by literally what is the fewest number of cards necessary to deal 20 damage. The shorthand way to estimate a burn deck’ effectiveness is usually 2 damage per card available. So a 7 card hand will only ordinarily require 3 draw steps to have the resources to Goldfish away 20 damage. For this reason, Mulligans are exceedingly painful to the Burn player. Every card missed is another draw step needed to count to twenty. But there are other ways to combat Burn’s inevitable clock.

  1. Play Lifegain. When I suggested that burn decks need to count to 20, I should have probably moved that number at least to 21 because of the ubiquity of the Khans gain lands. As opposed to Modern, where many decks effectively start the game at 15-17 life because of the Fetchland / Shockland mana base, Pauper trades speed of play for a higher effective life total. But in addition to the two-color gain lands you have other incidental lifegain tools at your disposal too. A maindeck Radiant Fountain that can be replayed with Boros Garrison or Kor Skyfisher can provide an extra 2-6 points of life in one game. Lone Missionary is a great creature to negate a burn spell). Or for more powerful lifegain tools from the sideboard consider Feed the Clan, Rest for the Weary, or Armadillo Cloak. Control decks have their own weapons too from Pristine Talisman to the recurrent power of Pulse of Murasa. With every lifegain spell effectively trading for a card or better you can see how such a ordinarily useless effect can be a potent weapon.

  2. Play Discard. Most of these Lifegain tools are in Green or White. Black mages also  can have very powerful lifegain tools like Corrupt and Gray Merchant of Asphodel but these occur so high on the mana curve that surviving to cast them can be a real issue. Instead the most powerful tools a black mage has against The Philosophy of Fire is hand attack: Duress, Wrench Mind, and my own pet card, Raven's Crime. When the exact quantity of cards the burn player plays matters, trading two extra lands for two of their spells can be crippling. Speaking of discarding lands with the retrace mechanic, black also has access to Syphon Life, a recurring way to gain life that can double as a win condition.

  3. Play Damage Prevention. Circle of Protection: Red. Moving right along…

  4. Pack plenty of counters. Dispel can eat a Lightning Bolt. So can Negate. Or Spellstutter Sprite, even if the Sprite gets targeted by a burn spell itself and eats that one instead of its original target. It still traded for a damage card in the process which can be all that mattered.

2. Dimir Flicker

Archaeomancer Ghostly Flicker

Dimir Flicker is a creature based control deck that can win with either with value creatures or with a soft lock combo finish. Usually the deck only runs 10-16 critters consisting exclusively of creatures with enter-the-battlefield effects all providing direct card advantage: Augur of Bolas, Sea Gate Oracle, Chittering Rats, Archaeomancer and Mulldrifter. Complementing these creatures with cheap black removal and counters, the deck will gladly trade resources early knowing it can outdraw the opponent, and in a worst-case scenario, Reaping the Graves is there to save the day.


So, how do you beat Dimir Value Town?

  1. Go under. A fast clock deck that can utilize all its mana every turn like Stompy can often win early and strand the Dimir player with cards in hand. Young Wolf is excellent at negating Chainer's Edict and Hunger of the Howlpack can break board stalls.

  2. Attack Dimir’s resources. These could be graveyard hate cards like Relic of Progenitus, hand attack like Duress to force through a key card, counterspells like Pyroblast, or land destruction like Molten Rain to hit their Dimir Aqueduct. My only caution with this strategy is that trading resources alone with the Dimir player is not usually enough to win. Unless you can use the opening to exploit tempo, the Dimir player almost inevitably will outdraw you.

  3. Go bigger. While Dimir plays an excellent value game, it is not the premier big mana control deck in Pauper. That honor of course goes to UrzaTron. Not only can Tron decks match Dimir in terms of the quality of cards it can play but because of its raw mana advantage it can also play more spells per turn. Just be careful as a Tron player to manage your own resources, especially in your ability to play colored spells. Prophetic Prism is usually the most important card you can play on turns 2-4, and if you have enough mana on board, remember that Crop Rotation can not only fetch your missing Tron lands but also fixing via Shimmering Grotto and even utility land effects like Bojuka Bog.

3. Kuldotha Boros / Boros Monarch


Glint Hawk Prophetic Prism

There are currently two Midrange Boros decks competing for dominance in Pauper. While both play as value decks, combining efficient removal with cost-efficient fliers that double as a draw engine, the difference between the two is their endgame. Kuldotha Tokens goes wide and uses its numbers to close the game via Rally the Peasants. Boros Monarch lacks the capability of an alpha strike but wins by taking advantage of the Monarch mechanic via Palace Sentinels and protecting the crown with Prismatic Strands.

Since both Boros decks are playing midrange, they are designed to survive the early rush and then turn a corner where they pull ahead on resources and board position.

So, how do you beat RW midrange?

  1. Attack from a different angle. Boros Midrange is tailored to fight a well-rounded metagame, but it is best built to interact with creatures. What if your win condition isn't creatures, as seen in Turbo Fog or UB Teachings? You blank a good number of their spells like maindeck Journey to Nowhere and reduce their Lightning Bolts to Lava Spikes. Even among creature decks, Hexproof has a great game 1 against Boros because of how few of their cards interact with Slippery Bogle. I can't remember the last time I saw an opponent play Kor Sanctifiers against me, an effective hate card that Boros used to play regularly.

  2. Control the tempo of the game. Even though Boros is well built against Aggro, it is well possible to disrupt their game plan. Cards like Smash to Smithereens and Searing Blaze have great targets to hit. Or attack their mana base with cards like Choking Sands and Gorilla Shaman. Remember that a lot of their deck is A + B mechanics so for example if you keep them clear of artifacts, Glint Hawk is a dead card and if you can Electrickery away their bird or goblin tokens then Rally the Peasants does nothing.

  3. Go bigger. Just like we saw with Dimir Flicker, when facing a value Midrange deck it is certainly possible to negate their strategy by doing something more busted. Flickering a Dinrova Horror and a Mnemonic Wall or  casting Capsize on multiple lands a turn will still shut the Boros Midrange player out no matter how many times they get to cantrip off the same Prophetic Prism.


4. Izzet Blitz


Kiln Fiend Temur Battle Rage

Izzet Blitz is a creature-based combo deck that can win as early as turns 3-5 by attacking with a 10 power, double striking, trampling Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops. Rather than building card advantage, this deck’s goal is to alpha strike the opponent in one shot and it can do so with confidence by both protecting the creature and providing evasion via Apostle's Blessing or by peeking at the opponent’s hand. As a strategy, it plays in similar space to Modern infect or Standard Electrostatic Pummeler energy decks. Without good hate cards and a prepared 75, you will lose to Izzet Blitz. So what do we do?

  1. Don't let them untap. Since a single attack can reliably mean lethal damage it is crucial to not let the Izzet player untap with a threat in play. Blocking is not effective! Between granting trample from Temur Battle Rage, shadow from Shadow Rift or Protection from any color or even artifacts from the super cheap Apostle's Blessing, the Izzet Blitz player has many ways to connect. However, in the absence of the mostly underplayed spell Expedite, you usually have a turn to see it coming. The best spells to kill each of their creatures are Lightning Bolt for Delver of Secrets and Kiln Fiend, Skred and Flame Slash for Nivix Cyclops or if they have a single creature in play, Chainer's Edict. Just beware that many Izzet decks Sideboard Stormbound Geist and Eldrazi Skyspawner in games 2-3 so be prepared.

  2. Count their open mana. Even utilizing free spells like Gush, Mutagenic Growth or Gitaxian Probe there are only so many cantrips and soft counters an Izzet player can play in a turn while trying to pump up their Kiln Fiend. You can therefore insure that your last spell on the stack has a way to get through like a well-timed Hydroblast or Pyroblast.

  3. Damage Prevention: Yes, there's the aforementioned Circle of Protection: Red, though my own experience is that effects like this are too slow. A better choice is Fog effects like Prismatic Strands and Moment's Peace. Just be careful since the Izzet Blitz player may come prepared with their own tricks like Flaring Pain and Dispel to force through their damage, pumping the Kiln Fiend at the same time.

  4. Flagbearers. These are excellent hate cards against infect and Hexproof and they have utility against Izzet Blitz and Stompy too. Decks that rely on targeting their own creatures can be shut down by a single Standard Bearer, or its larger, bolt-proof cousin Coalition Honor Guard.

5. Elves


Birchlore Rangers Distant Melody

Elves is a synergy based tribal deck that is able to flood the board and win through a variety of ways: it can win by pumping a creature to lethal portions via Timberwatch Elf or gaining an insurmountable amount of life via Wellwisher and both these tapping effects can be reused every turn via Quirion Ranger. It can flood the board with attackers via Lys Alana Huntmaster. It can refuel and draw an obscene amount of cards via Distant Melody. It can even burn an opponent out with Viridian Longbow, Mob Justice or Kaervek's Torch. But all these strategies require a critical mass of elves to provide more bodies, more mana, more life points, more damage. So how do you keep the elf player from Snowballing out of control?

  1. Sweepers. While it can't hit every creature in the deck, Electrickery provides great utility as an early 1-for-1 that can be a sweeper later. To counter it, many elf players pack Spidersilk Armor to insulate their X/1 bodies. Other effective sweepers include Shrivel, Evincar's Justice and Swirling Sandstorm, though concerning the more expensive sweepers I would be careful that you may not have that much time to rely on a sweeper alone.

  2. Spot Removal. If you can't kill all their elves, at least you may be able to kill their most important one. The challenge is to determine which elf is the most critical. Is it the Timberwatch Elf who can pump any creature? That's usually my default, but it's not always the case. Sometimes the critical elf is Priest of Titania since that it's their mana source, or Birchlore Rangers if it's their only blue mana source or Wellwisher if I am in a position to race them. Whatever you do, choose wisely.

  3. Run Them Out of Gas. Elves has a very easy time deploying the first 10-12 cards it sees in a game and often that it enough. But if you look at the individual cards in the deck, none of them are particularly powerful on their own apart from their tribal synergy. If you are able to contain threats and stay alive, you may be able to identify the moment that the elf player absolutely must resolve their next spell, like a Distant Melody or is relying on the top of their library to save them. In a complex board stall of creatures, the elf player almost always wins. But if their opponent is able to attrition the game to a clean board, I would not want to be the elf player drawing a Fyndhorn Elves off the top.



That's it for this week. I'd love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below.


I'm also always open for new topics. What do you wish you knew more about Pauper?