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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Aug 12 2010 12:02am
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My jump back into Pauper as a regular part of my Magical life coincided with a conversation I was having with Greg Weiss (the same ghweiss who has been tearing it up with Stompy, the same man who taught us to love the idea of Fireblast for G) about underutilized powerful cards. I do not recall who brought it up, but both Exhume and Unearth were discussed. Both of these cards accomplish a similar task- they allow you to pay bargain basement prices for a creature. When Urza's Saga first came out, Exhume decks were popular subjects- the idea of cheating something as simple as a Twisted Abomination into play excited people (read- me). When Rise of the Eldrazi hit the digital shelves, the talk turned to Ulamog's Crusher and (the horrendous) Hand of Emrakul.


Exhuming one of these guys on turn two is patently unfair. While some decks are casting Rancor or enabling a Goblin Cohort to attack, this style of deck hopes to put an 8/8 on the board. However, so many things have to go right that the prospect of investing an entire deck into maybe getting a monster early is just bad news. In this format, do you really want to risk not having a play before turn three?

Unearth helps to to mitigate this issue. Exhume's little brother gets the same job done on a much smaller scale, allowing you to run early drops that help to set up the big play later. Unearth begs for cards like Chittering Rats and its ilk, helping to stall the opposing game plan. And if it dies? Who cares! It comes back for one third the cost. An Unearth package allows a deck featuring Exhume to actively pursue its game plan in a way that can disrupt the bad guys. This led to a deck featuring many stellar hits from the world of MBCU: Sea Gate Oracle, Chittering Rats, and Mulldrifter. The first two are great in the early game and of course, can be brought back with the little spell. Exhuming a Mulldrifter, is a nice play, as the cards can be almost as much fun attack for eight.

This was the core that needed to be supported. Pouring over cards let us to Rotting Rats, which did double duty, providing both disruption and a way to get the goodies into the yard. Strategic Planning was a card that simply put you ahead, netting you the best card from the top three while also setting up your graveyard centered game plan. At this point, Greg looked for ways to increase the redundancy of the deck, a tutor, if you will. The tutor of choice turned out to be Dimir Infiltrator. The inclusion of Infiltrator allowed the deck to run extra copies of key cards.




This is the deck I used to test. It operated at two speeds- fast and slow. When the deck got a nut draw- an early Exhume and Crusher, it was incredibly difficult to stop. On the slow play option, it would operate similar to MBCu and UB decks, grinding out the game with incremental advantages from the Rats and Unearth until an Exhume could be set up, and then the deck would shift to the left lane. In a dozen or so games against various decks, the deck worked like a dream. The early drops would stall the game while putting the Exhume deck ahead, allowing it to cheat a Crusher into play and go to town.

And yet, it was still too slow.

Because of the little Blue men.

Ah, to speak the words that so many a Standard PTQer has spoken before.

Frickin' Faeries.

In all my games against the Blue menace, I took at most two, and those were in separate matches. The match up was exceedingly atrocious because the Exhume deck did absolutely nothing of consequence. Sure, it could put Rats and Drifters into play, but they paled in comparison to a Spire Golem. Exhume almost never resolved, and even if a Crusher made it on to the battlefield it would never get an attack in thanks to Pestermite.

By operating at instant speed and on the premise of free spells (like Golem and Errant Ephemeron), the Blue deck just plain old did not care what Exhume did. With Blue being such a popular deck, pursuing this version was an absolute dead end.

This, however, just illuminated a key flaw in the deck: it was slow. Reanimator was unable to execute against Blue because it could not reliably do anything that mattered in the first few turns. Similarly, as I played more games, it became apparent that against the other top decks I would experience a similar fate- being overrun before anything I did would impact the game. The only top deck I had success against was Teachings, probably because they too, took a long time to get set in their stance.

Testing this deck gave me a valuable piece of information- just because an interaction is powerful does not mean it is worth playing. Sadly, I did not realize this until I was blinded by the next idea that I decided to investigate.

After gaming with Exhume for a number of days, I became enamored with the interaction of Rotting Rats, Unearth, and the other Rats (cheap disruptive black creatures). Going back to the original conversation I had with Greg about tapped potential, I remembered discussing Dark Ritual.

Dark Ritual makes BBB

Chittering Rats and Liliana's Specter both cost 1BB.

Rotting Rats plus Unearth costs 1BB.

I was stricken with tunnel vision and built a deck with the core of:

4 Dark Ritual

4 Unearth

4 Rotting Rats

4 Ravenous Rats

4 Chittering Rats

4 Liliana's Specter

The other cards did not matter because I only cared about these.

Read that again.

The other cards in my sixty, the cards I am supposed to love, did not matter.

This was a huge mistake. If a card goes into a deck, it needs to be there- it has to matter. I did not care. I wanted to make my deck work based upon the cool interaction of the cards listed above. And I was blinded by starts involving a Ritual, Rotting Rats, Unearth, and another creature. I won some games and was fooled into thinking that this core was good. Could it be? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Baseball time! Anyone who knows me knows I am a die hard Mets fan. This season, I expected very little from the team, as it was a rebuilding year without being branded as one. The team did fine for the first few months, playing as expected.

Then, in June, they rattled off an insane streak of wins. Nothing impossible, but totally unexpected. The problem was, it gave fans hope. The Mets currently sit in third place, playing worse than before, and will likely miss the playoffs.

Both those decks gave me a June to remember. I had games that defied expectations and made me believe that what I was doing was productive, that my practice and wins mattered. In actuality, these decks just fell short. Could there be kernels of information that can inform what I do in the future? Absolutely.

This was only half the problem, however. The larger half was that I refused to give up. I εΎ’ knew that the Ritual Rats deck had potential, even if my games showed me other wise. The games would involve either me locking them out early or losing in the mid and late game. I was convinced that because I was winning some of my games that the interaction I had uncovered was a valid way to win at Magic. This was a false assumption.

The truth is that in any competitive format there are going to be far more powerful interactions than there are decks that house them. Pauper is no different. Just because we can Exhume a Crusher does not mean it is a winning strategy to do so. Just because Crop Rotation is in the format does not mean there is a way to exploit the tutor.

75 cards wins a tournament: not 60, not 40, not 20, and not 8. Looking back, so many of my decks just tried to win on the interactions of an inappropriate portion of the cards in the stack. I could get away with this because I was playing PDC or early Pauper where the format was largely unexplored and potent interactions could simply overpower an opponent.

Deep Dog is a great example of this. Does it have good cards? Absolutely. Does it have strong interactions? I would say so. However, the deck itself is sub-par.

In Pauper, one cannot simply will a deck into existence. All interactions, on some level, are known. Every potential collection of cards is a known quantity to the universe- it is we the deckbuilders that do the work of discovering the correct 60 and 75.

I did not invent Ritual, Rotting Rats, Unearth- I just found it. I grew attached to it. I took it home and called it my own because I thought it was.

It was not.

It belongs to Magic.

This was a liberating realization. In competitive Pauper, there is one goal- to win. This means finding the best deck for a day, a week, a tournament, a queue. To do this, you must know the format inside and out to understand its strong and weak points. Goblins rose to counter Tendrils of Corruption, Oh Snap! (the Seth Burn name for the UG Cloud of Faeries based combo deck) rose due to a resilience to countermagic, and the rise of Boomerang is a counter to this.

Each format has strong points and holes in the armor, and understanding how to maneuver strong decks in to these waters is a recipe for success. Sometimes that means have the best deck, other times it means having a good deck that you know better than anyone else.

Understanding this, I now have a new goal. I want to play the top decks, I want to be the best Pauper I can be. I will learn the best decks and I will play them. I will gain insight into what makes them good. I will only try new decks when they need to be tried.

Does Rats need to be tried? Probably not. Most UB Ninja lists already use a successful parade of Rats to stunt opposing development- I just wanted to be different.

This is not my kitchen table. I do not get points for being different. I get points for winning.

To win at Pauper, I must have a better knowledge of how the format works. Back in PDC, I knew it inside and out, but I had a heavy hand in those days. Now, I must wade through the work of others. This is not a bad thing, however, it is a change.

From now on, when I approach Pauper, I am going to try and keep the following thing in mind. I say try because habits are hard to change, especially ones that benefited me for the first few years in the format.

The best decks are the best decks for a reason. Rather than innovate, at this point I should look at what is successful and do my best to understand why they are good. Once I understand why these decks succeed, I can think about investigating ways to beat them with my own innovation. I should not build decks just to build them- just to have fodder for articles. I had started this already, but got derailed with illusions of Reanimator. I played the Blue deck, the 25 land version, pretty consistently, trying to understand what made that deck work.

What are these decks as I see them? In no particular order, the decks I consider vital to understanding in this format are: Stompy, MUC/Faeries, Storm Combo, Oh Snap!, Teachings decks, UB midrange decks, the Kiln Fiend Burn Deck, Goblins, and Affinity.

Pauper has come a long way since I started back in 2005. I have a lot of catching up to do.

It is going to be fun.


Keep slingin' commons-




WB Alex! :) by Paul Leicht at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 02:09
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WB Alex! :)

the maindeck is missing by rayjinn at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 04:01
rayjinn's picture

the maindeck is missing dragon's breath, centerpiece of the exhume deck

Good to see you writing by speks at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 09:26
speks's picture

Good to see you writing again, missed reading your articles!

Quite the honest article! I by deluxeicoff at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 11:41
deluxeicoff's picture

Quite the honest article! I think we all are guilty of shoving a deck through - only looking at the slamdunks, not the overall percentages...blinded by it being 'our creation'.
Pauper is so vast, it amazes me the format is as healthy as it is. I wish there were no rogue, as I, like many others, attempt to make decks that JUST beat the metagame - and then I walk into rogue round 1 and lose :( Good times so long as were playin' pauper :)

the Rats list by YrdBrd420 at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 13:05
YrdBrd420's picture

Welcome back Alex. I really like reading your stuff and hope you are getting back into writing about pauper on a more consistent basis.
Very nice, honest article. After reading it and absorbing your advice, what did the rest of the Rats deck look like? That core is quite intriguing. I play primarily TPDC, a little more laid back and lacking tons of MUC Fae and Goblins than 2-mans and PEs. So something like this is appealing to my eyes.

Good to see you writing again by lenney at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 15:26
lenney's picture

Good to see you writing again Alex. Perhaps you could revisit your BR Husk deck utilizing the new common, Act of Treason. It's still a good deck, and I think it deserves a revisit. Keep slingin' commons!

Great article Spike, I look by middleman_35 at Thu, 08/12/2010 - 21:52
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Great article Spike, I look forward to an interesting series examining Paupers top tier (that's the plan right?). Regarding that top tier, I think you're just about on the money, but I'd skip the Burn deck. In my observations it has consistently under-performed, and unlike something like Teachings or UB it's hard to see that there is much room for improvement in the stock list.

Great advice for new players by Copperfield at Mon, 08/30/2010 - 06:26
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I'd been doing something similar for my first few tournaments. While I was playing the top decks in the formats, I really wasn't as I couldn't resist the urge to, as you say, make the decks my own. This resulted in poor tournament showings, never once making the cut. So if a veteran feels that even he needs to acquaint himself with the top decks as they are, new player (like me) should take notice and do the same. Keep up the good work!