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By: Doctor Anime, Tomer Abramovici
Mar 29 2010 1:42am
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Another Pauper Times is finally here. This article has been sitting on the virtual shelf for a month now (created on March 1st), but complications like my computer being unable to access the internet and regulating me to playing MTGO on a crappy Acer netbook that really wasn't meant to handle that program, among other things, delayed this article from being published for way too long. But now I'm back and ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Now, on to TE!

Tortured Existence was one of the most hyped cards in Pauper history in the months before Tempest block was released online. When it actually had its debut on MTGO, however, the few people to try out the new archetype were met by sideboards packed with playsets of Relic of Progenitus. This was enough to make Tortured Existence fall off the map before a strong list could even be fully developed. An archetype with so much potential was given up on before given a real shot to prove its worth.

I think it's a shame that the TE archetype fell into obscurity when in reality it's so darn powerful. So today I'm here to tell you why TE deserves a second glance by breaking the complex archetype down into manageable nuggets of information.


Why Play Tortured Existence?

The TE archetype is a lategame master. Once you have the enchantment on the board, a graveyard with creatures and a good amount of mana, very little can stop you from achieving victory. Few, if any decks out there can compare to TE's full power. The only ones that I can think of are the Cloudpost-fueled decks like Izzetpost.

The real power of the deck is its unmatched flexibility. As TE's graveyard is filled, it becomes a giant toolbox. You can fill it with creatures to answer any problem. Traditional black/green TE decks have an enormous amount of creature tools to fight the evolving metagame. Want to put aggro in its place? Crypt Rats, Abyssal Gatekeeper, and Death's-Head Buzzard are sound choices. Cabal Torturer is a source of near infinite lategame removal. Druid Lyrist brings the pain to enchantment-heavy decks and Wickerbough Elder stomps all over Affinity AND enchantments. You can even effortlessly beat mill decks with Battlefield Scrounger! Consider yourself warned, non-existent tier1 mill decks!

If you're willing to risk consistency and splash other colors, the doors really swing wide open with what you can do. A small white splash nets you Auramancer to combat enchantment removal in case you're worried about your TE being destroyed. There is a pauper creature out there for just about any situation. Don't forget that Flashback / Retrace cards are fair game too! Teachings, a deck that shares a similar toolbox mentality, can't come close to what TE can do in this respect once it gets going.


The Building Blocks

TE's bare bones requires only a few things. First, you need a good amount of black mana to really abuse the enchantment. TE only gets powerful when you have enough mana to fetch a card from your graveyard and then play it on the same turn. Second (and third), you need a consistent way to have creatures to feed the enchantment and creatures in the graveyard that TE can target. Both of these are perfectly answered by Dredge creatures, the MVP being Stinkweed Imp. With Dredge you're guaranteed to "topdeck" a creature to feed your enchantment while simultaneously enlarging your toolbox of answers. If TE is the peanut butter then Dredge is the jelly. Just remember trying to cram too much jelly is going to make a mess of things, so don't go overboard with 8+ dredgers.

Now we have the base deck of 4x Tortured Existence and some Dredge cards. What next? Well, we probably want to start filling the deck with creatures that can be used with TE. Which creatures we decide on depends on what we want the rest of our deck to do. But to figure that out, let's look at potential problems with TE.


Meta Hate

For most people, the concern about playing TE is "meta hate." Some people worry that if they start piloting a TE deck, other players will start filling their sideboards with ways to destroy the enchantment and to exile cards from the graveyard, effectively gutting the deck's power. This is a valid concern -- destroy the key card of the deck while removing its toolbox is pretty lethal. 

DisenchantRelic of Progenitus

But I wouldn't recommend raising the white flag at the sight of a single Disenchant. There are ways to play around sideboard hate. If you know that your opponent is packing enchantment destruction in game two, hold back on playing the TE until you've amassed a decent number of swamps. That way you can drop the TE and still make some use out of it before it's destroyed and that's usually enough to get you by. Like I said earlier, there's always the option of sideboarding in Auramancer too. Against graveyard removal like the Relic, remember that as long as you clutch to a single Dredge card you can always rebuild your toolbox. So, waiting until he pops the Relic (either by baiting it or through patience) is usually a good idea. Bojuka Bog, a new tool to combat the graveyard, is much easier to play around due to its one-shot sorcery-speed ability.

Where things get rough is post-sideboard, if opponents start packing both enchantment destruction AND graveyard removal. Most decks, like Goblins and MBC, simply can't do that because their colors don't provide easy answers to enchantments, but some decks like WW potentially could. I can tell you with full confidence however that people will not be devoting that much sideboard space to do this unless TE becomes very popular in the metagame. TE struggling against meta hate is no different than Affinity dealing with artifact destruction, or Storm dealing with hand disruption. When a deck is popular, people adjust their sideboard accordingly. But here lies the catch: TE isn't currently popular. Decks aren't ready for it at the moment. Just like Affinity, TE can be poised to swoop in on an unsuspecting meta and then vanish until the meta hate goes down again.


Pitfalls to Avoid

There was a lot of feedback from early TE playtesters that felt their decks were unstoppable if they had TE on the board, but were terrible in games where they couldn't find the enchantment. From reading this type of feedback and looking at their deck lists, I can tell you a helpful way to avoid many of the mistakes you can make while building a TE deck: avoid "win more" cards.

You're winning when you have Tortured Existence on the board, the mana to abuse it and good creatures to fetch from the GY. It's simply inevitable at that point as you have access to an unlimited stream of creatures while your opponent relies on his random top deck, which will eventually fail him. The obstacle to overcome is getting to that point. That means any card that is only useful after you've landed TE isn't a card that you should be running. I don't recommend running cards like Mulch and Avenging Druid for that reason. These types of cards are great for getting mana to fuel your TE, but using them before you have the key card means you risk dropping it into the graveyard. Other cards like (Song of the Damned) are also pointless until TE is on the board and fit more in the realm of combo decks than control. There's no need for flashy finishers either when an army of 2/2's will do the trick just fine.

Instead of playing "win more" cards, I would recommend focusing on solid cards that help you enter "win mode" faster. Generally there's two ways to do this. The first way is to splash blue for card draw such as Looter il-Kor, Mulldrifter and Deep Analysis. These help you draw into TE faster and make sure you're not missing land drops. With multiple discard outlets you can even start dabbling in a Madness sub-theme, perhaps with a couple Grave Scrabblers.

The second more popular way is to add green for land fetch spells. Sakura-Tribe Elder and Krosan Tusker often make appearances in many builds for this reason. Land fetch spells give you more mana to abuse TE with while also thinning the deck and making it more likely that you'll draw your key card.

Another problem people mentioned was when you enter "dredge mode" with TE on the board, you cease being able to draw lands that help fuel your engine. The easiest fix for this is again splashing green, which give you access to land-fetching creatures like (Farhaven Druid), Tilling Treefolk, and Borderland Ranger. My favorite is the last option due to its 2/2 body, letting me fetch a creature that can attack and trade while still netting me a land drop for the turn.

Above all and I can't stress this enough, PLAY GOOD CARDS! If you wouldn't touch Thoughtpicker Witch with a 10ft pole, then don't think it's suddenly okay to run the card when you can potentially loop it -- it is not worth it! Always ask yourself: "Is this card good enough on its own?" If it isn't, then ditch it.

I've covered what TE does, what it needs, and what it should avoid. Now I present to you my latest list:  


The underlying goal of this deck is to stall the board, consistently drop lands each turn, slap the good ol' enchantment down, and then win with infinite Crypt Rats burn loop.

I liked RCueva's approach of card-by-card analysis, so I'll do it here as well:

Tortured Existence: The key card of the deck. It doesn't do much at the beginning of the game, but it only grows in power as the game drags on.

Grim Harvest: This is like the 5th Tortured Existence. While not as strong as the enchantment, anyone who has played UBcontrol knows that this card is still quite good. Grim Harvest shines a little stronger here as well with suicidal creatures that can bring it back to your hand on demand, such as the Augur, Crypt Rats, and Sakura-Tribe Elder. I love STE + Harvest.

Stinkweed Imp: The best dredge creature for the deck's purpose. Dredge 5 is the best pauper gets, and the Imp is perfectly playable as a solid defense while you set up. A 1/2 flying deathtouch is a great roadblock against your opponent. It's a good solution to flyers too, namely the Kor Skyfishers used by WW and UW.

Golgari Brownscale: Dredge card #4-6. Pre-TE it proves to be great against aggro. 2/3 is pretty tough to break through, and if he dies, you can dredge and play him again while gaining 2 life. Post-TE, however, Brownscale is an easy way to gain life, and if you have access to two of them then TE can read, "B: Gain 2 life.," by fetching for one Brownscale with the other Brownscale. This is game over against aggro, and against other decks it's an easy way to keep your life total higher than theirs so you can burn them away with a Crypt Rats loop.

Sakura-Tribe Elder: Rampant Growth on a stick, but for the same cost, making it strictly better than the original.

Elvish Visionary: Visionary serves a purpose before and after TE shows up. Before, it helps to draw into the key card or into a third land while providing a little early defense. After, it speeds up the process of filling your graveyard with good targets by using the Draw ability to instead Dredge. Many times, I'll be in a situation where the only good creature to fetch is a Borderland Ranger, but I have 7+ lands in play and a Visionary in the Graveyard. So, instead of just fetching the Ranger I first spend three mana to grab a Visionary, cast it and draw the Dredge the creature I just chucked, then fetch the Ranger if nothing better showed up. It's a 1/1 and a Dredge effect whenever you have an extra three mana! 

For the record, First Strike thinks this card is terrible and thinks Wild Mongrel should be here instead. I kind of agree with him. Mongrel would be a stronger answer to aggro and is worth testing. Really, the biggest selling point of Visionary here to me is helping me draw into Tortured Existence. The enchantment is so central to the entire deck that I'm willing to play a 1/1 cantrip just to shove it on the battlefield more consistently. It still can trade with a goblin so it's good enough in my books. If you don't expect it being able to kill something in the current meta though, chuck it!

Borderland RangerCivic Wayfinder: For 3cc you fetch a land and drop a 2/2 that trades with most creatures in the format. Deck thinning and providing solid defense is great pre-TE. Post-TE it is still a fine candidate to fetch if you don't yet have the critical land mass to go supernova on your opponent. I run an even 2-2 split between Ranger and Wayfinder to help avoid Echoing Decay Xfor1's. Never missing an early land drop is great.

Krosan Tusker: For 3cc you draw a card and fetch a land. Not as hot early on as Ranger, but who doesn't like dropping a 6/5 beastie on the board in the late game? A sweet versatile finisher.

Crypt Rats: This deck screams to play Crypt Rats. It's one of the best cards in the format, and a deck that can fetch all the swamps in a hurry is a perfect home for this little bugger. Crypt wipes the board for you, but later on can become a primary win condition. Play the rats, burn your opponent and wipe the board clean, fetch him back, rinse repeat. There really isn't much your opponent can do to stop you either! The brownscales are taking care of your life total anyway.

Chittering Rats: Middleman has the best explanation on why this card is so good: 

"Chitter(ing Rats) is essentially random discard. They 'discard' whatever they would have drawn next turn. Your opponent has no control over what that card is." - middleman35
A 2/2 body that can trade with most creatures and nearly random discard rolled into one. I say nearly because sometimes the opponent can shuffle his deck before drawing a card, turning the random discard into normal discard. Chittering is so good that I always try to play it when I can.
Augur of Skulls: Like a Mind Rot on a stick, which is excellent against combo and control. With Harvest or TE you can sac the Augur and play it again and again until the opponent no longer has any cards in hand. At worst it's just a hard to kill blocker.
Raven's Crime: With so much land fetch I usually don't mind discarding an extra forest to steal a card from my opponent. Dredging it up as an option to steal my opponent's last card is sweet. Very nice card to have against control and Storm.

Stinkweed Imp: Great against flyer-heavy decks.
Duress: Some more love sent to Storm.
Wickerbough Elder: Elder is a beast against Affinity and Armadillo Cloak decks. Killing their biggest threat and then leaving a 4/4 on the board is brutal.
Grazing Gladehart: Another great anti-aggro creature with strong synergy in this deck. Rangers and Rot Farms make sure that you're dropping lands each turn while STE and Expanse sometimes let you put two lands into play in the same turn, gaining 4 life.
Essence Warden: This is a concession towards the recent upsurge of Goblin decks in the current metagame. I wanted a fast answer to the red menace's creatures, and this cheap creature can gain a significant amount of life or at the very least trade with a burn spell that would've been aimed at my face. Disfigure is another option here.

Cards That Didn't Make the Cut:

Greenseeker was in my first build but I eventually cut it because it was too slow and didn't feel as strong as my other land fetchers. I used Crippling Fatigue and Echoing Decay as extra removal until I realized I don't need anything more than Crypt Rats. Festercreep was in my sideboard to fight WW's Order of Leitbur, but then I actually playtested WW and realized it was an easy matchup. The annoying knight could easily be stopped by double blocking with green creatures. I briefly tested 1 Island for Mulldrifter but for the first time ever I felt the mighty flying fish wasn't worth the splash.

Cards That Require More Testing:

As I mentioned earlier, Wild Mongrel is always a solid option against aggro. It can pump itself into a respectable fattie when necessary and lets you discard/dredge Golgari Brownscale faster for the lifegain cushion. On a similar note, Putrid Leech is a solid on-color option as well, because a 4/4 for 2cc is simply awesome in any deck.
Serrated Arrows is another amazing card that could easily fit into this kind of deck. Arrows is just brutal against Goblins and WW, since no amount of temporary creature pump can save the target from permanent -1/-1 counters. Ya, I'm looking at you guys, Goblin Sledder and Shade of Trokair! If WW is found everywhere while Goblins goes down, I'd probably side out the Gladehart for this beauty.
Then there's also Abyssal Gatekeeper. I haven't gotten around to trying it myself, but if I find myself in trouble with aggro then this can always be another option.
Finally, Faerie Macabre is a superb option for reusable graveyard hate. This card can castrate UB decks relying on a solitary Grim Harvest or any deck that has a good amount of graveyard manipulation, including the mirror. I'm currently focusing my list to stomp on aggro and UB has never been a problem since TE's lategame is stronger than theirs, but if this ever changes then the Faerie would be brought in.

You can see there's a bunch of cards that could be good here and should be tested out. As such, I can't say my version is at all the definitive "best" build, but I will say that I've had extensive playtesting and tweaking with the version that I've posted. Because of that, I would highly recommend running my list as-is before making changes of your own. With my list as a reference point you can know whether your own changes are an upgrade or downgrade.

Dead Dog?!

Obviously TE Control has some similarities to the Dead Dog archetype I discussed in my previous articles. In fact, the reason why I was tinkering with a BGcontrol was because people kept asking if land-fetching cards would be good additions to DD. The truth is that both decks are very different from each other. Dead Dog is an aggro deck that runs TE because it's a good fit but not the central premise of the deck. It's resilient to "TE hate" because it can achieve turn 5 kills and has no reliance to the enchantment. TEControl, however, is faithfully built around the card and seeks to maximize Tortured Existence's potential.

On a related note, with usually only 1 Dead Dog pilot per PE, I was surprised when Odi Et Amo piloted the deck to the semi-finals three weeks ago. His version cut Brain Gorgers and Gorgon Recluse for removal spells, including maindecked Echoing Decay to help combat Storm. Odi soundly argued why the Recluse should be cut and I made the same change to my own list, and while I love the Gorgers, I wouldn't run it if I expected to play against Goblins. Instead, back in goes sweet sweet Rancor -- though if you don't have a playset, Disfigure will work nicely as well.

That's it for now. Hopefully this article convinces some of you to try out this neat enchantment gem we have in Pauper. Next article is almost finished as I send this for re-publishing and you can expect talks about tier1 trends in Pauper and how to use these golden rules to build new winning decks. I'll also be talking about Teachings, KoDok's modified version of my list that earned him a finals draw in the PE three weeks ago, and why Treasure Hunt has been falling below expectations.
To wrap things up, I want to ask you guys: What do you want to read about? New deck archetypes worth exploring? More queue results? More "You Make The Play" that are solvable? An analysis of the evolving metagame and how to choose cards appropriately? Draft walkthroughs? Help me decide! Although the next article is almost done, I haven't decided what the one after that will be about, so your input is always appreciated.


TE + Imp Image by First_Strike at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 11:13
First_Strike's picture

The image of Tortured Existence and Stinkweed Imp being like peanut butter and jelly made me laugh. It also made a good point with your thoughts on not overdoing the dredge theme.

Glad to finally see this posted by YrdBrd420 (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 12:50
YrdBrd420's picture

Excellent article sir. I have a thought on Visionary. Phyrexian Rager could replace Chitters and Mongrel/Leech Visionary. You would lose some disruption but keep the card draw and gain a better body against aggro and be nicer to your mana early. Just a thought. Great article.

I think I like that. by First_Strike at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 13:12
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Phyrexian Rager instead of Chittering Rats seems like it could be a great idea. That plus the Mongrel change could really help versus aggro, maybe enough (in combination) to free a card or two in the sideboard.

I'll be cutting Visionary for by Doctor Anime at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 14:02
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I'll be cutting Visionary for Mongrel, but it would be extremely difficult for me to cut Chittering. Generally Chittering > Rager in most situations, but I agree that here it's a bit different. Still, Chittering helps much more against Storm.

Glad to finally see this posted by YrdBrd420 (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 12:50
YrdBrd420's picture

Excellent article sir. I have a thought on Visionary. Phyrexian Rager could replace Chitters and Mongrel/Leech Visionary. You would lose some disruption but keep the card draw and gain a better body against aggro and be nicer to your mana early. Just a thought. Great article.

Double Post = Props for me by YrdBrd420 (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 13:17
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I double posted. Liked the article that much. ;-)

How does this deck beat by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:49
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How does this deck beat jund?
It doesn't.

Jund in Pauper by kalandine at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 16:47
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You do realize that there isn't currently a viable Jund deck in Pauper?

how bout..... by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 17:50
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some extended decks made classic, cogs and stripes, spore cry, UR Demise, etc.

um... by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 17:51
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the pauper Jund idea is pretty interesting to.

I don't think Jund can by Doctor Anime at Mon, 03/29/2010 - 19:55
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I don't think Jund can currently make it in pauper. Tricolor with no rarelands is just slow and inconsistent, and the only awesome "Jund" card that you get to keep is Blightning. Even Terminate loses its greatness when the fattest target on the board is Mogg Flunkies.

Chitter vs Rager by YrdBrd420 (not verified) at Tue, 03/30/2010 - 15:37
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I can agree 100% that in a PE/queue enviroment where is much more prevalent, Chitter is better.
My suggestion of Rager comes from playing TPDC where Storm only appears once in a blue moon.

how is tricolor slow by Anonymous (not verified) at Tue, 03/30/2010 - 18:08
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with green to fix it? Rangers and tribe elders. You'd use Bolt over terminate and side out blightning against fast aggro like goblins.