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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Aug 17 2015 12:00pm
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 Last Wednesday Magic Online implemented the Play Point prize system. I will not use this space to opine about this shift. Instead I want to recount my first jaunt into the new 2-Person Queues. Play Points gave me the incentive to actually play sanctioned matches of heads up Pauper. I always want to play with something on the line and I lack the four hours for the old Daily Events.

Regardless, I knew I was going to have some time to grind matches on the 36 Play Points in my account. I wanted to play something I knew was good before trying out some more roguish choices. After I had built up a bank I would switch things up every five matches.
Instead I picked a deck and stuck with it for twelve battles. Why? Because I ended up falling in love with how the games were won. The deck stirred something Spikey deep in the recesses of my soul and brought out a player who didn’t just want to win, he wanted to crush the enemy.

 


Izzet Tron came about in discussion after my recent work on various forms of Tron. Jason Sirichoke knows how to tune decks and he took the marble of my proposed decks and found the statue underneath. My goal was to operate exclusively at instant speed. As is often the case in my rough drafts I push too far in one direction. Jason managed to find exactly the right balance for Izzet Tron’s action. Adding a few copies of Mulldrifter and Flame Slash did wonders for the overall strength of the sixty. Jason also shaved down to the bare minimum of win conditions. Instead the deck leans hard on Capsize and Mnemonic Wall in the late game.

Capsize is one of the best things you can do in Pauper. The only thing keep the card down is its high mana cost. The Tempest instant lets you either Boomerang an adversary’s board OR regrow important spells in conjunction with Wall OR draw cards with Mulldrifter or Prophetic Prism. Most games end with you holding a grip of seven and the villain discarding to hand size and nothing on the table.

Two newer cards have impressed in Izzet Tron. The first is Twin Bolt, which provides some maindeck defense against tiny hordes. Arc Lightning was always close to playable but cost too much and ate up an entire turn when it mattered. Twin Bolt solves this problem by being an instant.
The other card is (Artificer’s Epiphany). Often Jason and I have gone back and forth searching for a solid instant speed draw two. We usually settled on Think Twice but always noted that Catalog was incredibly close. Thanks to the presence of Prophetic Prism and Pristine Talisman the Epiphany acts as a pure draw two.
The deck is held together by three cards: Mystical Teachings, Impulse, and Condescend. Mystical Teachings is extra copies of high impact spells. Exclude, Twin Bolt, Capsize, and even Epiphany in a pinch - Mystical Teachings goes and gets what is needed for a given situation.
Impulse is simply fantastic. Previously Tron decks relied on Expedition Map and Ancient Stirrings to find key pieces. The problem with these cards is their narrow application. In old Temur Tron lists Ancient Stirrings was the driving force in finding lands, threats ((Ulamog’s Crusher)), and cogs. Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere took up slots that could have been occupied by threats or answers. Instead, cogs. Impulse may not see as many cards but it does have the advantage of being able to be cast at the end of an opponent’s turn. It also can get any card it sees - not just a colorless one. The ability to dig four deep and pull out a Lightning Bolt is something that Ancient Stirrings can only aspire to accomplish.
Finally, Condescend. In a world where Brainstorm, Preordain, and Ponder exist, Condescend is the choice here. Why? It is card selection stapled to an answer. Izzet Tron has ten lands that produce blue mana, six of which come into play tapped. Playing any one of these on turn one and following it up with one of 16 untapped lands on turn two opens up a world of potential plays. Condescend is going to stop almost everything cast on turn two unless the other side of the table is casting one mana spells - in that case it will probably catch their second spell. And then it smooths out your draw. Need land? Condescend digs. Want gas? It does that too. While it does not draw you a card, the ability to counter anything and then Scry for two puts you up an appreciable amount, if not a full card. Condescend may become harder to use as the game goes on but it is never useless.
I have seen players use a Counterspell to stop a Condescend for two. Just to stop the Scry.
Izzet Tron plays like a Draw-Go deck. It wants to accumulate resources and then use a mana advantage to strangle an opponent out of the game. The Tron matters during the victory formation. Until that point the goal should be to simply play lands every turn. Using Condescends to stop early threats to sculpt draws. Impulse should only be cast with a specific card in mind including lands. Until Tron is assembled the goal is to not let anything on the other side of the table matter.
Of course this begets the question of what actually matters? “Focus only on what matters” is an axiom attributed to Jon Finkel. Like most great sayings there are fathoms in its simplicity. Determining which spells and threats are going to have the greatest impact on a game is key to piloting Izzet Tron. Wasting a Condescend or Lightning Bolt on something incidental can be fatal. Almost always assuming the control role, the deck is wholly focused on staying alive until it can choke an opponent out of the game. Therefore stop things that will kill you quickly. Creatures with two power are only scary in multiples thanks to Pristine Talisman so save counters and removal for larger monsters.

The queues themselves were interesting. My previous experiences with the heads up queues were mixed at best. I would get a mix of new players trying out their perception of Pauper and other players grinding for packs and points. I was unsure if the field had shifted given the move to Play Points.
I was surprised. In my 12 matches (as of the writing of this article) I only faced one deck that I would not consider to be in the top tiers of the Pauper metagame and even that one - Presence of Gond combo - has a following.
First up was Affinity. The combo-aggro deck can be lightning quick and drop an army while Tron is setting up defenses. My opponent was on the slightly slower Perilous Research version, which eschewed more threats for cards like Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring to fuel Atog and Disciple of the Vault. Game one came down to a misplaced Condescend. Early in the game I burned the counter on a Thoughtcast to try and set up my draws. Later I ended up having to expend a Rolling Thunder for 12 on an Atog to prevent a lethal attack. I ended up succumbing to a squad of 4/4 creatures. Holding on to the Condescend to handle a threat instead of a draw spell may not have changed the outcome but it would have vastly improved my chances.
Games two and three were rather rote. I resolved a turn two Gorilla Shaman in the second game and proceeded to eat all the lands. Game three the Shaman waited until I had full access to Tron and my opponent scooped them up after I cast a one sided Obliterate thanks to Capsize.
I am going to group matches two, eleven, and twelve together because they all came against Mono-Black Control. Izzet Tron absolutely destroys MBC due in no small part to the black deck having cards that simply do not matter. The common inclusions that must be stopped include Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Corrupt.
That’s it.
Everything else is ancillary. I’ve often let Chittering Rats resolve, put a dead card on top, then Impulse it away. The goal is to not let a Gray Merchant resolve for anything more than four. Protecting Capsize in games two and three is also important but it can be retrieved with Mnemonic Wall. Sometimes you will randomly lose a Mystical Teachings to a Bojuka Bog but it hardly matters. Eventually a Capsize will force MBC to start discarding and Rolling Thunder can be found for the final blow. Unless there are no Swamps in play do not cast Capsize on a creature. MBC can use one of their otherwise dead kill spells to counter the buyback.
The third match was against Simic Combo. Considering my options, I was comparatively happy to face Simic over Esper Combo. I recognized the user name - Cruentum_Dei - as a skilled Esper Combo pilot so I steeled myself for the fight.
I got too wrapped up in my perception of the matchup and let multiple chances to Condescend a Mulldrifter pass in game one. I was closer to stabilizing but eventually died to a (Kaervek’s Torch) for four. Game two was not a contest. I kept a Tron heavy six card hand but was never able to muster anything. Between Utopia Sprawl, Archaeomancer, and Snap, I had Thermokarst cast against me eight different times.
If I had played tighter in game one perhaps I could have made a match out of it. As it stands I do not hate Izzet Tron for the combo matchup but it requires more focus than I had at the time.
Next up I played against Delver. Here I always felt that I was in the game until it got away. It also seemed that I was one or two cards away from establishing control. Those cards never materialized and Delver took on the aspect of a rolling boulder.
In the fifth I faced off against the updated version of Green-White Saprolings. In the past this deck spat out tokens and used Pallid Mycoderm to generate an Overrun Now the deck also has access to Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond as an automatic win. Midnight Guard is highly susceptible to Lightning Bolt and the games were not competitive.
Matches six and nine were both against Izzet Blitz. Seeing Swiftwater Cliffs on the screen elicits a rather unpleasant feeling. Izzet Tron wants a long game while Izzet Blitz excels at finding an open window and smashing right through it. If a Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops sticks it becomes difficult to remove thanks to Dispel and (Apostle’s Blessing). The dance therefore becomes about finding the right mix of counters and burn to make sure nothing stays on the board. While I won both matches neither opponent seemed to be fully armed with Hydroblast and Pyroblast. I do not know if these cards would have been enough to turn the tide in their favor. The games I won I was able to either counter their threats or kill them once they were on the board - something these pricey cards would have hindered. Dispel does not stop Flame Slash. Gut check: an Izzet Blitz deck with a proper sideboard should have a far easier time defeating Izzet Tron.
In the eight match I defeated Hexproof. The first game my opponent managed to build a monster before I could contain the damage and I was stomped. In the second and third games I managed to counter the force multiplying auras and left myself with plenty of life and a sideboard Bottle Gnomes. If Hexproof adopts a build that comes with a way to recoup card advantage - Snake Umbra or (Heliod’s Pilgrim) don’t boggle the mind - then this matchup becomes far harder.
The seventh and tenth matches of my set came against Dimir Delver. I won the first and lost the second. Dimir Delver has lots of velocity focused cards that help to enable its overpowering tempo plays of Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler. In this way the games were similar to Izzet Blitz in that containing their threats was the best path to victory.
The difference, however, comes down Flame Slash. Against Izzet Blitz I had opportunities before and after resolution to deal with their creatures. If the game had dragged on I was up on resources and could thwart their defensive measures. Flame Slash, if resolved, handled everything. Not so against Gurmag Angler. If multiple Anglers hit the board the game became all but unwinnable. Dealing with one is a challenge but doable thanks to Capsize. The second Angler applies too much pressure. In match ten that is exactly what happened. Game one I was under pressure from two copies of Insectile Aberration on turn three and game two it was a pair of fish. The pairing feels draw dependent and comes down to whether or not Tron can assemble the correct defensive pieces before Dimir Delver can find its threats.
My dirty dozen taught me quite a bit. First, Izzet Tron is absolutely a real deck. The deck has some unlosable matchups. The archetypes I would deem a “bad” pairing are still close. The volume of universally interactive elements gives the deck play against the field. It may be that Electrickery is better out of the sideboard than the third Twin Bolt. I also want to find space for Echoing Truth somewhere to deal with situations like two Gurmag Anglers. Repeal seems like a logical choice except that card deals with an Insectile Aberration for one mana AND replaces itself.
Second the 2 Person Queues are a fun way to play with something on the line. Winning three out of every five matches will let you break even on entry. I won nine of twelve and added 45 Play Points to my account - the rough equivalent of 4.5 tickets. Being able to see the gain is nice and it has definitely incentivized me to jump back in to win more. The fact that losing one of these queues still results in five Points awarded is nice. Increasing the prize for the winner would add to the experience but the absence was not apparent until I started tracking my results.
Finally, I learned that some of my opinions about the modern state of Pauper are based in reality. Pauper is a format defined by Tempo. Time was a heavily manipulated resource in the games I played. The best decks - Delver and Cloud of Faeries Combo - want to cheat the clock by advancing their board state beyond what can be reasonably expected on a given turn. Other decks, like MBC, incrementally gain an advantage that can only be exploited through a key card (Gray Merchant or Corrupt) but when it does hit the number of seconds shifted is massive.
Izzet Tron wants to keep the pace of the game even until it can exploit its mana engine for a temporal boost. Dimir Delver is willing to run cards that do nothing to affect the board for a chance to cheat on turns. Izzet Blitz is a rubber band stretched to the limit until it snaps back in a flurry of spells that leave the unprepared down an eye.
I am excited to further exploring the idea of time being more valuable than card advantage in Pauper as I continue to try these new play offerings.

Keep slingin’ commons-

-Alex 

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