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By: Motu, Aaron Kahler
May 25 2009 12:06am
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Pauper is odd.  Really odd.  When I first started playing the format I was surprised by what a beating I was receiving from cards I hadn't given the time of day in the past -- cards like Guardian of the Guildpact, Golgari Brownscale, Crypt Rats, and Death Denied.  However while Pauper is certainly a unique format, it doesn't throw everything out the window.  You can play any card that has been released as a common on MTGO (well other than the banned Cranial Plating) and powerful staples like Lightning Bolt, Fireblast, Corrupt, Counterspell, Mystical Teachings, and Wild Mongrel translate straight into the Pauper format.

Disciple of the Vault

I knew if I was going to play an all-common deck the place I wanted to start was with the deck I felt had access to the most ridiculous commons -- atleast commons that had been banned in other formats: Affinity.  After a quick analysis of the format and a look at successful decks I decided to sling the following: 

The Gameplan

The Affinity deck has essentially three stages that the pilot is trying to navigate.  The initial plan, if the hand allows, is to cheat big threats into play quickly -- turn 2 Somber Hoverguard or Myr Enforcer -- and go aggro for as many damage points as one can get in.  The second stage of the game is to resolve Rush of Knowledge with either of the two large threats in play or a Frogmite in a pinch.  Finally you setup a turn in which you can play Disciple of the Vault alongside Krark-clan Shaman as a sac outlet to dome your opponent for the rest of his life total.

ThoughtcastChromatic Sphere

Strategic Conisderations

When playing the Affinity deck it is important to remember that you can announce your spells before you pay for their costs.  This way the affinity cost reduction is applied before you need to pay any colored mana requirements.  For example if your board consists of Ancient Den, Vault of Whispers, and Chromatic Sphere you can cast Thoughtcast by announcing the spell, clicking on it in MTGO world, so that the number of artifacts you control is counted to be 3 and you are asked to pay 1U.  At this point you can tap both of your artifact lands and filter one mana through your Chromatic Sphere for a blue to cast the Thoughtcast you would otherwise be unable to play.  The rule is also pertinent for casting Somber Hoverguard and you can replace Chromatic Sphere with Chromatic Star or Lotus Petal and the rule still applies.

Lead with Chromatic Star before Chromatic Sphere since the former will draw you a card if it is destroyed while the latter only draws a card if its ability is activated.  Furthermore when you are filtering mana use your Chromatic Sphere first since you can do things like sac the Chromatic Star and still draw.

Aside from the mechanics of correct play with the Affinity keyword mechanic, it is also important to understand what hands you can keep and what hands you should mulligan.  The deck only runs 16 lands, if you are going to mulligan any hand with less than 2 lands in it you need to pick a different deck.  Springleaf Drum is essentially lands 17-20 in the deck and perhaps the best "land" in that it allows you to create whatever color requirements you may need.  You want to mulligan hands that have no turn 2 action such as a creature or Thoughtcast along with hands filled with lands.  Again you need to consider each hand and its relative worth in each of the three stages of the deck's gameplan and decided whether the hand can get there.

Rush of Knowledge is key and as such you ideally want to save Lotus Petal to cast it.  Furthermore when you do tap five mana for the game-breaker you don't want to get blown-out by a removal spell which turns your draw 7 into a draw 1.  Either hold the spell for when your opponent is tapped out or for when you have multiple creatures such that a single removal spell won't matter.

Disciple of the Vault and Krark-clan Shaman will generally draw your opponent's removal so it is wise to hold these components until you are ready to combo kill your opponent if possible.  Again remember that you can stack as many sacrifices as you like as long as you don't allow the Krark-clan Shaman's ability to resolve.

After sideboarding your opponent will most likely have artifact removal and may decide to attack your fragile manabase.  As such lead with your expendable lands such as Ancient Den or Great Furnace and hold onto Seat of the Synod if possible until it is needed.


The weakest cards in the deck are the Pyrite Spellbombs and they come out in virtually every match, although what replaces them varies.  Against Mono-blue Control and other base blue decks you want the set of Pyroblast cutting the spellbombs, a Chromatic Sphere, and a Lotus Petal.  Use Pyroblast to force through your card drawing and you can overwhelm the counterspell decks. 

Circle of Protection: Red and Hydroblast come in against RDW and other various red decks with the same cuts.  However against the RB decks which are rising in popularity I prefer bringing in Hydroblast and two copies of Reaping the Graves.

Relic of Progenitus is there to combat Tortured Existence and once again the familiar four are dropped for the sideboard suite.

Reaping the Graves is your trump in matches that involve a war of attrition such as Mono-black Control.  Side out your spellbombs and a Chromatic Sphere for the storm Raise Dead  and hold those Lotus Petals until you need them or can up the storm count for Reaping the Graves.  Generally Reaping the Graves for 3 or more just ends the game as it allows you to get back enough dudes to turn the tide or assemble Disciple of the Vault and Krark-clan Shaman for the finishing blow.

Sample Games

With all this in mind I headed to the Tournament Practice Room in order to run the deck through a few matches to whet your appetite for the parallel universe that is the Pauper format.

Match One -- R/B Husk

On the play my opponent mulligans to four.  I play a Somber Hoverguard and Myr Enforcer on turn two via Springleaf Drum and Lotus Petal -- remember announce before you sac the petal!  My opponent concedes shortly thereafter.

My first turn Krark-clan Shaman meets an EoT Lightning Bolt and my opponent follows with a Mogg War Marshal.  I cast Thoughtcast on turn two and my turn three Myr Enforcer is sent to the graveyard by an evoked Ingot Chewer.  On my fifth turn I stick Somber Hoverguard and a Myr Enforcer and my opponent pays the echo on a Mogg War Marshal on his turn allowing me to safely cast Rush of Knowledge on my turn six, drawing seven cards and discarding back down to seven before passing the turn.  On my following turn I play Springleaf Drum, Springleaf Drum, Frogmite, Disciple of the Vault, Disciple of the Vault into Reaping the Graves returning Myr Enforcer and Krark-clan Shaman to dome my opponent for 16.

Match Two -- R/B/G Land Destruction

On the draw I start the match with a Springleaf Drum and my opponent plays Jund Hackblade on his turn two.  Jund Hackblade is good but Frogmite and Somber Hoverguard make my turn two look a bit better.  I then lose a land to Stone Rain before I swing in for three damage and trade my Frogmite for the Jund Hackblade but not before adding another Frogmite and Somber Hoverguard as well as a Disciple of the Vault.  I lose another land to Stone Rain (Hah, take one!) before my opponent concedes.

I cut the two Pyrite Spellbomb for Hydroblast and start the second game facing down a borderpost with land, Chromatic Star, Lotus Petal, go.  Playing the petal so that I would have Hydroblast available but my opponent plays Wall of Roots and passes.  With only one land still I play Chromatic Sphere and Frogmite and pass.  I lose my only land to Thermokarst.  I crack my Lotus Petal to play Thoughtcast and draw into an Ancient Den which allows me to play Springleaf Drum and pass.  My opponent lays another land and I play Disciple of the Vault and another Chromatic Sphere before using the drum to get blue mana and Hydroblast a Molten Rain.  On my turn I play Somber Hoverguard, Krark-clan Shaman, and Chromatic Star before losing yet another land to Thermokarst but my opponent takes one!  I play a third Chromatic Star and attack my opponent down to 12 before my opponent lays Martyr of Ashes and activates it.  I sac my Frogmite and three Chromatic Stars in response taking him to 8 and drawing three cards in the process as well as keeping my Somber Hoverguard on an otherwise creatureless board.  Another Disciple of the Vault and Somber Hoverguard on my turn leads to a concession.

Match Three -- Tortured Existence

I match Jund Panorama with Great Furnace and Springleaf Drum. After land pass from my opponent I play Krark-clan Shaman and Chromatic Sphere still stuck on one land.  Tortured Existence and Wild Mongrel enter play and I fire back with Chromatic Star into Thoughtcast and FrogmiteSakura-Tribe Elder joins the opposition and Wild Mongrel bashes me for three discarding Golgari Brownscale.  However I find a second land and play Springleaf Drum and two Myr Enforcer to gum up the ground after the Sakura-tribe Elder chumps the FrogmiteTilling Treefolk returns a couple lands to feed the Wild Mongrel and I Thoughtcast twice and then play a Disciple of the Vault, Chromatic Star, and Lotus Petal before trading a Myr Enforcer and seven damage for Tilling Treefolk to take my opponent down to 14 after all his Golgari Brownscale shenangians with Tortured ExistenceGolgari Brownscale is dredged back and exchanged for Tilling Treefolk but 16 life isn't enough when I play Rush of Knowledge into another Disciple of the Vault to match my Krark-clan Shaman.

I sideboard in four Relic of Progenitus for the spellbombs, a sphere, and a petal.

Game two starts with Sakura-tribe Elder ramping my mana and a turn 2 Frogmite + Somber Hoverguard for my self.  Being a newcomer to the format comes with its disadvantages and I didn't expect Crypt Rats and got blown out by him on turn four after laying another Frogmite.  Left with only a Rush of Knowledge in my grip and an empty board I wasn't able to recover.

Game three on the play demonstrated why I wanted to play Affinity.  Turn 1 Ancient Den + Chromatic Sphere was met by a comes into play tapped Barren Moor from my opponent before a flurry of spells on my second turn.  Great Furnace and Lotus Petal allow two free Frogmites into a Somber Hoverguard filtering blue through the Chromatic Sphere which draws a third FrogmiteLotus Petal is sacrificed to play Thoughtcast and I then play Chromatic Star and am left with Disciple of the Vault in hand.  Nine power of attackers on turn two unsurprisingly led to a concession from my opponent. 

I highly recommend the Pauper format, it's interesting and diverse and most of the folks have been a pleasure to play with.  If you give the format a go, definitely check out the Affinity strategy it's certainly competitive and you have to cackle just a bit every time you play Rush of Knowledge to draw 7 cards!


Pauper is a great format, but by me myself and i (not verified) at Mon, 05/25/2009 - 00:54
me myself and i's picture

Pauper is a great format, but it would be nice to see an article on a deck that is somewhat original. Affinity may be good in some matchups but in a pauper tourney dont expect to have a chance with it. Even my very casual pauper decks have at least a 40% matchup vs affinity, and most decent pauper decks will destroy it nowadays. Affinity has low threat density and relies on getting good hands. and 4 rush of knowledge is too many imo. Its a very easy card to play around for the opp, and since everyone who plays pauper has played vs affinity way too much, there isnt any surprise factor.
well written article though.

Pauper, Affinity, and Tournament Viability by Motu at Mon, 05/25/2009 - 01:17
Motu's picture

The last large Pauper Daily Event was won by an Affinity deck. Affinity is one of the few pauper strategies I've found that has a clear way to win a game in each of the three outlined stages. It can get busted draws that play a 2/2 and a 4/4 on turn 1 and simply beat the opponent before they setup. It can draw cards via Thoughtcast and Rush of Knowledge to attrition the opponent out in the mid-game. It can setup Disciple of the Vault + Krark-Clan Shaman to combo kill in the late game. I really like the deck and continue to endorse it for those looking to break into the format.

Rush of Knowledge by jayhoegh at Tue, 05/26/2009 - 18:47
jayhoegh's picture

I have to say, I didn't give this card enough credit at first. But it allows me to make huge comebacks when in tight positions.

I was playing a slivers player would had a cloak on one of his spinnerets. So, with enforcer on the stack, I saced a whole bunch of artifacts to the shaman to wrath his board. Well, I stupidly forgot about the thrill of the hunt in his gravyard so he's left with a 4/5 life-linked creature and I just have a bland 4/4. Rush of knowledge allowed me to over load the board 2 turns later and force a concession. I was at 3 life, and he was at 30.

Make sure and cackle! by Motu at Wed, 05/27/2009 - 10:33
Motu's picture

Rush of Knowledge treats you better when you cackle as it resolves.

am I the only one who noticed by Anonymous (not verified) at Wed, 03/31/2010 - 16:29
Anonymous's picture

am I the only one who noticed that Krark-clan shaman can't do damage to players?

Hence why he said along with by Anonymous (not verified) at Wed, 03/31/2010 - 18:11
Anonymous's picture

Hence why he said along with disciple of the vault.