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By: gwyned, gwyned
Aug 23 2012 11:00am
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I. Introduction

In many ways, the metagame for Standard Pauper follows what's going on in the wider world of Standard. Similar archetypes often emerge, which is not surprising given the role that Commons play in the larger format. But despite the parallels between the two formats, one of the basic archetypes that is almost entirely absent from Standard Pauper is that of Combo. While this term gets used in a lot of different ways, generally a decklist can be considered a Combo deck if it utilizes either a two or three card combination of cards to immediately win the game, either through an infinite recursion trick, casting a massively powerful spell, or just dealing 20+ damage in the course of a single turn. Since such Combos are now quite rare even in Standard, it is no surprise that they are essentially non-existent in Standard Pauper. 

However, what do sometimes emerge are what I would term pseudo-Combos, which while lacking the immediate power of a true Combo, create a repeatable sequence of plays that gives the player a major advantage over his or her opponent. While this by no means guarantees that this player will triumph, it does place him or her so far ahead that in most cases assembling the combination is often sufficient to win. For example, one of the most popular such combinations is a Gravedigger recursion, where a player keeps a single copy in hand while additional ones are on the Battlefield. Whenever one dies, that player simply casts the one in hand, returning the one from the Graveyard into hand and putting the new one into play. More recently, with the release of Magic 2013, a new combination has emerged into the metagame, and it has quickly become very popular among deckbuilders:

Why is this such a powerful combination of cards, and what options exist to take full advantage of its potency? And how does this sequence fair in a metagame currently dominated by fast and aggressive strategies like White Weenie and Red Deck Wins? That is exactly what this article will address.

But before we get to that, let me remind you that the goal of this series is to highlight relevant information about the Standard Pauper format from the results of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, commonly referred to as MPDC. MPDC is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room. You can also check out any of my previous articles by clicking here.

II. Analyzing the Combo

Despite its potential, this is a fairly simple combo to pull off. Here's how it breaks down. Ghostly Flicker is an Instant that exiles two of almost any permanent (not including Enchantments and Planeswalkers). In effect, once this spell resolves, both targets are treated as having just entered the battlefield, leaving them untapped and triggering any relevant abilities. Archaeomancer is a creature that brings back a single Instant or Sorcery from the Graveyard to its controller's hand when it enters the battlefield. Thus the combination works as follows. Assuming you have Archaeomancer on the board already, when you cast Ghostly Flicker, you target both the Archaeomancer and one other valid permanent. The Ghostly Flicker goes to the Graveyard after resolving, leaving the effect of the Archaeomancer on the stack. When that effect resolves, you choose the Ghostly Flicker, returning it to your hand. As long as you have at least available you can repeat this sequence indefinitely. Even more interesting, you don't even need to have both cards in hand before you play one or the other. If you draw Ghostly Flicker first, you can use it to get extra value out of any relevant ETB abilities, and then retrieve it once you cast the Archaeomancer. On the other hand, if you have the Archaeomancer first, you can play it out and grab a powerful Instant or Sorcery that you've already cast, then start the Combo when you draw the Ghostly Flicker.

Now it should be obvious that this alone is not that advantageous, as you are spending 3 mana without actually accomplishing anything other than returning the Ghostly Flicker to your hand. But it's when you factor in the second target of the flicker that this combo shows both its strength and its flexibility. So let's take a look at some of the potential options at your disposal.

III. Combining Your Options

Surprisingly, there are quite a few options here. A quick search in Gatherling, in fact, revealed that there are 84 cards with "enters the battlefield" type effects. Obviously, some of those are more relevant than others. Let's take a look at some of the better ones.

1. Aether Adept has become one of the more popular Blue creatures in the metagame right now, thanks to the enormous tempo one gains by bouncing an opponent's creatures off the Battlefield. Given enough mana, one could quickly clear out your opponent's side of the board, then swing in with your other creatures unopposed. This adept also has the advantage of not requiring the player to have access to any other color. Additionally, one could instead play Mist Raven, which for the cost of an additional colorless mana gives you the same effect but provides an even more relevant threat thanks to Flying. This is particularly good given the percentage of matchups that one will be playing against the White Weenie archetype, which is utilizes a large number of 2/2 Flyers.


2.Another particularly useful target is Stonehorn Dignitary. While a 1/4 for is pretty poor by almost any evaluation, this Rhino Soldier possesses the unique ability of forcing your opponent to skip his or her next combat phase. Given the time that it takes to build up enough mana to make the combo work effectively, the ability to forestall an aggressive opponent's attacks for multiple turns can  make the difference between being overwhelmed quickly and buying enough time to stall out the board and take over the game. In some ways this is similar to the benefit from bouncing an Aether Adept, since the primary advantage one gains is time. But eventually, one will need to find a more potent target to gain any lasting benefit from the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo.


3. As mentioned above, one of the more potent combos in Standard Pauper is the ability to chain or loop sources of Graveyard recursion. Gravedigger continues to be the creature of choice for this strategy, and as such it could also serve as a strong target for the combo. The only downside of going with this option is that one of the best ways of stopping the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo is to use Graveyard hate, such as Nihil Spellbomb, to keep the Ghostly Flicker from returning to the player's hand. But in that case, one sidesteps the recursion ability of the Gravedigger at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. Still, Gravedigger is certainly among the better flicker targets, and one that will definitely be missed when Magic 2012 rotates out of Standard.


4. Another obvious method of literally gaining advantage through the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo is by means of creatures or other permanents that draw cards when they enter the battlefield. Of the various options currently in the Standard Pauper card pool, Phyrexian Rager is probably the most widely played, with Elvish Visionary a close second. Gryff Vanguard and Sky-Eel School are other possible options in Blue, with Ichor Wellspring as the last option. One might also think that Abundant Growth would be a valid target, but remember that Ghostly Flicker cannot target Enchantments (or Planeswalkers, but of course that is certainly not relevant here!)
 

5. My personal favorite target for this combo is Maul Splicer. While its mana cost of has proven to be quite prohibitive and thus kept this powerful card from seeing much play in Standard Pauper, this target could generate quite a powerful loop. Spending to create two 3/3 Golems is an amazing deal, and it would only take a few castings before one developed an overwhelming board position. Granted, getting the Maul Splicer on the table in the first place is no small task, and keeping them on the board is even harder with so many popular bounce effects in the metagame. But assuming one could ramp up quickly to this card, this could easily be the best target for the combo, at least in terms of sheer power.


6. Another worthy target that I would consider is Bloodhunter Bat. While seemingly innocuous, this bat has already shown itself to be one of the best options with the combo, thanks to its minor but important ability to drain an opponent for 2 life while simultaenously gaining its controller 2 life. Lifegain is stronger in Standard Pauper than in most formats, and given how aggressive the current metagame is, even minor effects such as this often prove the difference between dying early to White Weenie or Red Deck Wins and surviving long enough to take advantage of one's stronger cards. The fact that the Bloodhunter Bat also matches up well against the multitude of fliers that make up the White Weenie deck is the icing on the cake.


7. The last card I will consider is Ravenous Rats. This perennial favorite in Classic Pauper is finally back in Standard, and while neither a 1/1 creature nor a 'discard a card' effect are that strong, somehow the combination of the two in a single card for is perfectly acceptable. Obviously the ability to have a recurring discard effect is strong enough already, but there is a further trick one call pull with the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo. Once your opponent is out of cards, if you set a stop during his or her draw step, you can force your opponent to discard the newly drawn card every turn, effectively locking him or her out of the game, assuming that the card drawn is not an immediately relevant Instant. While it certainly takes some time to setup, this is one of the strongest combos in Standard Pauper that I've seen since I came back to the game.

IV. Putting It All Together

Monday Pauper Deck Challenge just began a new season, which means that we've only had a single event thus far where Magic 2013 was legal. But it should come as no surprise that one of the decks in the Finals of that event utilized the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo. Let's take a look at this decklist, run by the very capable player pk23.

(please note that since M13 cards have not been entered into Gatherling, I had to guess based on his games which M13 creatures pk23 was playing and how many copies).

As you can see pk23 has chosen to include most of the better targets for the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo. In addition, he is also utilizing the synergy between Auramancer and Dead Weight to get additional use out of that removal spell. He has also included a wide variety of spells to deal with almost any possible scenario, including Amass the Components and Forbidden Alchemy for card draw, Negate and Essence Scatter for additional control, Revoke Existence to deal with pesky Enchantments or Artifacts, Nihil Spellbomb to shut down opposing recursion tricks, as well as Undying Evil and Cloudshift for even more recursion options for himself.

Ultimately though, the question is whether or not a decklist utilizing the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo is strong enough or fast enough to compete in the current metagame. And I can't think of a better matchup to test that question than White Weenie. Fortunately, the Finals of MPDC 18.01 featured that exact matchup. Let's take a look at how it went down.

V. The Finals of MPDC 18.01

 

 

VI. Conclusion

So is the Archaeomancer-Flicker combo viable? The post Magic 2013 metagame is still in the early stages of development, so it's certainly too soon to make any definitive statement. But the very fact that one such decklist made it into the Finals seems a good indication that it's worthy of consideration. There are a lot of potential options here, and it will take some time for the strongest builds of the deck to emerge. That said, given how aggressive the metagame is in general, and the dominance of White Weenie in particular, I would argue that it may be an uphill battle for this deck to rise to prominence, despite all of its strengths. Time will tell.

In closing, let me remind you that if you would like a sneak peak at my content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com, you can always browse over to YouTube.com, search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. You can also follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. If you'd like to know more about the Standard Pauper format and why I believe it's not only important but worthy of official support, check out my articles here and here. Finally, let me extend once again my heartfelt thanks to the great community of players that supports this format. See you next time!

5 Comments

That is definitely a cool by Paul Leicht at Thu, 08/23/2012 - 14:38
Paul Leicht's picture
5

That is definitely a cool combo and applicable across multiple formats. Not sure how tourney worthy it is but it is certainly worth a few looks at it.

Nice job. I faced this deck by joekewwl at Fri, 08/24/2012 - 09:25
joekewwl's picture

Nice job. I faced this deck last week with mbc and beat it. You simply cant let it get set uo or your done.

An awesome write-up as always by Copperfield at Fri, 08/24/2012 - 09:50
Copperfield's picture

An awesome write-up as always and a very informative trio of videos. It looks like Flicker can really get going if the opposing aggressive deck stumbles on mana, but can get stuck very easily if it doesn't draw its two most important combo pieces Archaeomancer and Ghostly Flicker. The combo looks slow and clunky at first, but for an experienced control player like pk23 it's the perfect deck to experiment with and hone. It was particularly interesting to see how long it took for the deck to win the first game and how quickly it lost when White Weenie got a good draw going, so I think your assessment that Flicker has an uphill battle is correct. Still, it's not heavily reliant on Scars block cards at all, so perhaps Return to Ravnica will present even better combo pieces for next season. I say good luck to all Flicker players out there and to gwyned, keep up the good work and keep the articles coming!

Hmmm... An interesting set of by LostAlone at Fri, 08/24/2012 - 23:16
LostAlone's picture

Hmmm... An interesting set of synergies to be sure. But I think that it'll have to lose black or at least drop it back to a splash in the post RTR meta. With no 1B kill a dude spell, it just doesn't seem worth it.

My lizard-brain says that this shouldn't be a deck that's trying to combo, but one that's trying to win through tempo and just being annoying as hell to play against, and we even got given Soulbound and mist raven last block to make things much much more interesting. I'd be thinking UGw, with wing crafters, nightshade peddlers trusted force mages, grif vanguards maybe some lumberknots. That's your beat down crew, who are all solid value targets to benefit from being flickered (changing which creatures have flying, death touch, and +1/+1, and drawing cards ofc). Then a package of Archaeomancer, Ghostly Flicker, Mist Raven, Cloudshift, Unsummon and Stonehorn Dignitary.

Hold down the board with your dudes who are really really hard to attack into (would you attack with anything when any creature might have flying and deathtouch at instant speed ?), bounce any problem creatures, stonehorn shenanignas buys you time while you keep drawing cards. Once they are out of gas, you pair up a lumberknot and a wingcrafter (or possibly a pathbreaker worm) and go to town with flying 5/5 beat sticks that if they ever try to block profitably you can just flicker.

You saw this format got added by Psychobabble at Fri, 08/31/2012 - 05:28
Psychobabble's picture

You saw this format got added to the client? your campaign worked, gj!