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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Apr 15 2010 11:53pm
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Pauper is a format where the power level, for the most part, is flat. The commons available online are, for the most part, of a similar potency. When a blip on the radar occurs, we see players bend over backwards to make a deck around the potential energy trapped within. Take for example Mulldrifter. An obviously a good card, and while it can fit into most any deck sporting Islands, it looks even better with a support cast featuring Momentary Blink or on a more fair scale, Warren Pilferers to get it back. What happens, though, when a card is powerful and breaks the rules of fairness, but is also so narrow that you have to bend over backwards to make it work?

Exhume is such a card. Make no mistake, this card is powerful in a vacuum- I theorized a pretty awkward build of such a deck. That deck jumped through hoops to try and ensure that resolving an Exhume would push you miles towards winning.

This in it of itself is not a flawed strategy. Decks have been using cards like Exhume, Reanimate, Animate Dead, and many others to cheat large, hard to solve, and often disruptive creatures into play. However, unlike Pauper Exhume decks, these decks would have a back up plan to cheat creatures into play- sometimes Exhume was that secondary plan. Pauper's second best spell (currently) is Stir the Grave. The problem with that card is that it does nothing unfair- it does not generate mana or cheat a card into play.

What makes Exhume good? It can cast any creature for 1B. Think about that- in other formats, this means having a card like Iona, Shield of Emeria in play quickly, generating you an approximation of seven mana, as well as disrupting the hell out of your opposition. This is fantastic in formats with such creatures. In Pauper, while you may be able to generate a ton of mana, rebuying a card like (Twister Abomination) or Macetail Hystrodon, the best disruption you can muster is through Mournwhelk or Faultgrinder. Is this good?

Well, it isn't bad. But it's far from busted.

Exhume does something unfair, but the trek to the payoff, well, it just is not worth it at the moment. This, in turn, shaded my view of the Unearth spell (not the keyword).

I will say it here- my comments in Tomer's article were aimed at playing fair in a deck like Mono-Black Control. Upon further review and an education from Greg Weiss, I better understand what Unearth does. It generates mana and lets you get back a creature you would want to cast anyway at a critical moment. Since most of the creatures you would be getting back cost three, and Unearth only costs one, it is like generating two free mana ,whereas Exhume would only net one on a (Chitterinng Rats) or Crypt Rats. One mana goes to waste; two mana is an investment.

It took me a long time to wrap my head around Unearth. It was not until I latched on to Tinker that I began to understand.

Unearth is nowhere nearly as powerful as Tinker, but they both accomplish similar things, albeit on vastly different scales.

Finally, Unearth can play the plan B in an otherwise normal deck- it can be the Exhume to Reanimate. Unearth is quite good without having to bend over backwards. Exhume, not so much.

This begs the point: what cards are so strong in Pauper that they warrant the extra investment to make them viable.

No, scratch that, rewind.

What makes something unfair?

Like good pornography and team chemistry, it's hard to define, but I know it when I see it. Unfair is when you just know that you have the best. And in Pauper, the least fair deck is fluid.

Before delving into decks, what about cards? Decks can be less fair, but cards, that is where unfair lies. Unfair cards have to break the rules of the game, more than a normal card. They can generate tempo or card advantage in some way. It is far more difficult to achieve this state with damage in Pauper due to the scale of Burn. Is a Lightning Bolt unfair? No, unless it springs forth with the bad guy at three or less- and even there, the Bolt is pretty even keel.

Storm, Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are great examples of unfair cards that are “worth it.” By crafting a deck to just spit out spells and investing resources, you get a similar payoff. Storm turns all prior investments into an additional payoff- it is free mana. Each Rite of Flame has the fine print of “this card will deal one damage to your opponent” or or has a free Dragon Fodder spliced on. When one of these spells resolves (and the additional copies do their things) you win the game. That is the pinnacle of unfair. They are so powerful, it is worth packing your deck with mana and draw just to power them out, since, one more time, you win the game.

Exhume, even in an ideal Pauper situation, will not win you the game. Very few other cards, when you cast them win the game right away.

Some of the other cards that can do unfair things in Pauper have homes. Chittering Rats can deny a draw step, which can be huge. Casting one of these at the optimum moment can have devastating results. When slotted into MBC, the Rats help the overall scheme of the deck; they are able to be unfair because they have a home. A card which does something similar, Temporal Spring, is unfair, but cannot live up to its potential because it has no deck. Outside of Storm Combo, Dark Ritual, a card so powerful that an entire class of spells are named after it, has no home.

Just because a card is good does not mean it has a home. This helps to explain why so many decks seem to pop up in the days after release events, only to fade shortly thereafter- people are attempting to try to tip the scales. I am guilty of this. Whenever some narrow and interesting card makes its way into my digital hands, I immediately revisit a list of decks I keep to try out and give the card in question a test run. Other times a card will be printed helps to push one of these decks towards viability, so once more, I give it a spin.

My batting average is not so hot. But hey, half the fun is the journey to failure.

I spoke briefly about the least fair decks being fluid (it was right there, next to the mention of pornography), and this cycle helps to create a metagame.

Because I feel like it- a baseball analogy. My favorite team, the New York Mets, are not off to a good start. Part of this is due to their General Manager, Omar Minaya, who would be an above average GM, if this were the mid-nineties. Instead, it is 2010, and Minaya built his team to fight yesterday's wars. His team is fair.

The Yankees, well, they are pretty unfair.

The least fair deck in any matchup is the one you do not want to face. This helps to illuminate why MBC was at one point “unfair.” Look into the past of Pauper and you will see people clamoring for a banning ( a sure sign that people think a deck is unfair). Why was MBC unfair? Because the majority of decks people were running at that time were susceptible to removal; they were creature decks. Goblins was unfair, in part because it could dodge the dominant removal strategy of the day- Goblin Sledder trumps Tendrils of Corruption and Crypt Rats. These decks only remained dominant for so long in part because they were just good: unfair strategies are hard to beat when fighting fair.

Commons are fair- the have to be for limited purposes. If draft were full of bomb commons, well, limited would be a far different beast.

Approaching unfair in Pauper is about abusing the effects everyone uses and pushing a deck to the limit. Slivers is so strong in part because it has so many Slivers. It can generate mana simply by casting a new creature that in effect enhances each previous investment- Goblins succeeds on a similar metric. The antiquated and no longer functioning Black-Red Husk deck turned early investments into Shocks late. Landfall, when pushed, can approximate spells simply for playing land.

A study in one card, Goblin Bushwhacker, in the form of a deck. Bushwhacker is a great card that can steal quite a bit of time in the game. Casting it optimally can catch an opponent off guard, or when combined with cheap threats can allow you to win from absolutely no where. With the addition of Goblin Matron, decks can now play with eight Bushwhackers. But since we are pushing this to the limit, why stop at eight? Why not fourteen?



This deck makes Bushwhacker work harder than the hamster on the wheel. The idea is to get the most out of every card, casting them over and over thanks to Skyfisher and Whitemane. A turn would ideally go something like this:

Cast Skyfisher, returning a Marauders.

Recast Marauders.

Kick Bushwhacker.

Attack for nine (+1 damage from Marauders)

That seems like a pretty good turn to me.


Bushwhacker helps to eke out value from the Vanishers and the Skyfisher, although the latter is pretty good in its own.

The other half to this is the Matron Package. Matron allows you to pay 2RRR for four power of haste spread across two creatures- not a terrible deal. Additionally, it allows you to run a package of specialty Goblins, although the package presented is no where near ideal.

Is this deck unfair? I do not believe so, but it can do some unfair things. The mentioned ideal damage turn is pretty good, and setting up your draws with Matron can feel positively Blue. Chances are though, Matron is better suited in a straight Mountains Goblin deck, allowing you to cut down on the number of Sparksmiths while upping the count of Sledders, Raiders, and Bushwhackers.

Like I said, I enjoy the journey.

Keep slingin' commons-





exhume and RoE by andreFM at Fri, 04/16/2010 - 04:23
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Good article Alex. About Exhume, I remember you playing around with the idea of reanimator in Pauper, a while ago, due to this card's release in MTGO. At the time I replied that as much as I'd like to play reanimator, I didn't think we had any busted creatures to cheat into play in pauper, but now..

Enter the two common Eldrazi! Could these creatures alone make an Exhume-based reanimator deck playable in pauper? I for one an very keen to try this. What are your thoughts?

Play for fun but .... by mootown2 at Fri, 04/16/2010 - 17:22
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I already had playsets of Tusker and Mongrel and picked up 3 Exhume (so far). I specifically want the Eldrazi commons to build a bad Reanimator for pauper. I figure Tusker or either Eldarazi is going to be better than my opponent's best creature in the graveyard most of the time.

So I found a link to your by hexblade1 at Fri, 04/16/2010 - 06:15
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So I found a link to your last article on PDCmagic.com, so I made an account specifically to comment on it, as I do not often play online (it has been over a year now) but anyway, I play lots of pauper, in the paper format (for various reasons) and I have an exhume deck. It is a very potent one. I have never lost with it. Although I must admit I have access to cards you don't, I am still going to post the decklist here. Also, it fits with this article as it is very fluid, there is almost never a dead card in my hand.

4 Rancor
4 Expunge
4 Penumbra Bobcat
4 Putrid Leech
4 Gnarlid Pack Yay! New additions to help fill out my mana curve!
4 Twisted Abomination
4 Krosan Tusker
4 Feast or Famine
4 Exhume

2 Quicksand
4 Barren Moor
4 Tranquil Thicket
7 Forest
7 Swamp

The Sideboard
2 Funeral Charm
2 Lingering Death
4 Invigorate
4 Unburden
3 Evincar's Justice

The Exhume is actually in there as a incidental win condition. If I have it in my opening hand, I play it, if not I play the deck normally. The major advantage to this deck is that if I don't need or can't use a card I cycle it for a new one. Also Feast or Famine is nice removal if I run into MBC because I can still spit out an instant speed blocker. The sideboard's Funeral Charms and Lingering Deaths and Unburdens are to help deal with MBC and the Evincar's Justices deal with Empty the Warrens decks.

Like I said, I've been very successful. This is probably because I have cards you don't, but also because you don't build a deck AROUND Exhume. Instead you put Exhume into a deck in which it will shine if you have it.

hexblade, im not sure by howlett23 at Fri, 04/16/2010 - 12:09
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what cards you have access to that we don't online...Invigorate? I would estimate the level of competition you are playing with your Exhume deck is nowhere near the level online, which is the case with most paper vs. online instances. I play both types quite regularly and if the paper format is less than a PTQ the online level of comp blows it out of the water. I have an Exhume deck built online and its average at best, contains many of the cards you listed also. I am going to build you deck and run it a bit, but I don't see it going undefeated by a long shot, the storm combo deck is just to explosive for any deck with no disruption.

sorry, if you have those by hexblade1 at Sat, 04/17/2010 - 14:39
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sorry, if you have those cards, Ihaven't playered online for about two years now. And perhaps it isn't as competitive, but it still works quite well.

actually we do have by ShardFenix at Sat, 04/17/2010 - 18:41
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actually we do have invigorate online...just saying

Looks fun by Scartore at Fri, 04/16/2010 - 14:28
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I'm gonna build me that skyfisher gobbo's deck, it looks like a lot of fun (which I know is a bad word;)

I tried the WR Skyfisher deck by KoRnZYSIEK at Sat, 04/17/2010 - 15:11
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I tried the WR Skyfisher deck but with other aproach. I focused on landfall and recurring Teetering Peaks. The last version I played was something like this (I tinkered with it a lot so its for sure not a perfect decklist but it shows the idea):

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Incinerate

Lightning Bolts are obvious, used incinerate because of instant speed with helps a lot against combo. The idea is to make them 6-7 life in first 3 turns, and then when they cast sign in bloods burn them. Probably a better player won't fall for this, but it worked amazingly good in tournament practice :)

4 Reckless Charge
As you said why play with four brushwhacker's when you can play twelve. Very underrated card, 6 damage in 4 mana + 2 creatures gain haste can be really unfair. Even if you don't want to play it main, try sideboarding - it's perfect for combo decks that don't disturbe you.

4 Steppe Lynx
4 Plated Geopede

The landfall guys. To be fair, they don't work so good.

4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Kor Skyfisher

Nothing to explain.

3 Keldon Marauders
3 Skyknight Legionnaire

These are the free slots. Marauders are awesome with Skyfisher. Legionnaire was being tested - it turned out not to be so good as I thought earlier.

3 Lotus Petal
4 Manamorphose

Petals as I test them lately should be natural inclusion in any beatdown nowadays. They also help you to put your skyfisher second turn without tempo loss.
Manamorphose is just an interesting proposition. Would you play a card that reads "instant, if you have 2 lands in play you may play it for free, draw a card"? And it sometimes cures you out of screw. Surely it can be countered, but most of people won't counter it and counters aren't played so much lately. It essentialy makes your deck 56 cards instead of 60.

4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Mountain
6 Plains
2 Boros Garrison
3 Teetering Peaks

Teetering peaks are really nice with skyfishers, try them. Mana base is made for the landfall, and it's not good. Don't look at it ;P

And another idea for this deck is to go green, take some good beatdown creatures, and use horned kavu instead of skyfishers. As for your deck I wouldn't use lions - they really suck.