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By: gwyned, gwyned
Nov 18 2011 9:55am
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I. Introduction

Some strategies just frustrate me when it comes to Magic. During the last season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, it was not uncommon for me to bemoan the existence of the Infect deck and my own struggles when it came to facing it across the virtual Battlefield. I think my frustration was based upon the fact that this deck seemed to be playing a different game entirely, using spells and creatures that normally would be considered subpar and crafting them into a strategy that won without dealing a single point of actual damage. During this same season, I exhibited a similar reaction when playing against mill strategies, which also attempt to win by an unorthodox method that seems so fundamentally different than the way the game is normally played. Fortunately, the day has yet to come when such a strategy is good in Standard Pauper, and I hope that day never comes. But now a new strategy has emerged with this new season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, one that revolves around yet another unusual means to win the game. And while this one still relies upon dealing damage, the fact that it not only plays cards that are generally less than optimal but also makes it difficult to even interact with this strategy forces me to characterize this decklist in the same mental compartment as Infect or Mill - unorthodox decks that seem to ignore all the normal rules and ride to victory in a way that often can seem unfair. What is this degenerate strategy, how does it work, and what tools are available to fight back?

But before we get to that, let me remind you once again 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 / 7:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room. You can also check out any of my previous articles by clicking here.

II. The Hexproof Mechanic

The decklist in question revolves around a simple mechanic, which was introduced with the release of Magic 2012: Hexproof. Here's how the Comprehensive Rules defines this ability:

Let's break that down. First, Hexproof is a static ability, meaning that it does something all the time, without the need to be activated or triggered. Second, Hexproof essentially works as an abbreviation for the text, "This permanent can't be the target of spells or abilities your opponent(s) control." In other words, any spell that specifies a target cannot be used against a creature with Hexproof by your opponent. However, Hexproof provides no protection against effects that are untargeted but still affect the creature in question, such as Day of Judgment or Seismic Shudder. Third, while Hexproof can also apply to a player, no such effects currently exist in the Standard Pauper cardpool. Interestingly enough, although this mechanic did not officially come into existence until Magic 2012, the effect existed on several creatures prior to that set, including Troll Ascetic, for whom the ability was originally nicknamed "Trollshroud." Also of note, the current intent is that Hexproof will serve as a permanent replacement for the Shroud mechanic.

So how does this play itself out in Standard Pauper? Currently, there are only three creature cards in the metagame that include this mechanic, along with the spell Ranger's Guile:

Normally, these would not be considered playable cards. While both Gladecover Scout and Sacred Wolf have Power equal to their converted mana cost, the fact that both have only 1 Toughness means that they will tend to trade with an opponent's weakest creature. Aven Fleetwing is better, especially with the reduction of the number of flyers in the Standard Pauper cardpool, but 4 mana is not exactly advantageous for a 2/2 flier. And even though they cannot be targeted by an opponent's spells or abilities, these creatures can still be blocked like any other creature. However, the real advantage of these creatures is their ability to wear creature Enchantments, otherwise known as Auras. Let me explain.

Generally speaking, playing an Aura on a creature is a bad strategy. It immediately opens you up to a two-for-one from your opponent, who can use removal like Incinerate or Doom Blade while the spell is still on the stack, killing the creature and wasting the Aura. Even if your opponent is unable to do this immediately, the same card-disadvantage occurs whenever the enchanted creature dies, whether it be from combat damage or from removal. Except perhaps in situations where dealing damage to an opponent with the creature even once with the Aura is highly advantageous, generally speaking one should avoid this strategy entirely.

In the case of creatures with Hexproof, however, an opponent's ability to remove the creature is greatly reduced, since the creature itself can't be targeted. And, depending on the Aura in question, the boost from the Enchantment is usually also sufficient to make it powerful enough to avoid trading in combat. Thus, a deck that relies upon this strategy can actually take what typically amounts to a terrible strategy and turn it into something that is not only viable, but difficult to interact with as well. Especially in Standard Pauper, where options for mass removal are typically limited or non-existent, and where Enchantment removal is not a strong metagame choice, a player can find herself quickly overwhelmed by even one or two Hexproof creatures enchanted with decent Auras. And in many such spots, there is quite literally nothing the player can do about it.

With that in mind, then, let's take a look at the decklist that was piloted to a 1st place finish in MPDC 15.03.

III. The Hexproof Decklist

Tri Color Hexproof
played by MrNancy in MPDC 15.03
Creatures
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Perilous Myr
4 Sacred Wolf
4 Viridian Emissary
3 Aven Fleetwing
19 cards

Other Spells
4 Lifelink
4 Ponder
4 Spectral Flight
4 Travel Preparations
2 Traveler's Amulet
1 Accorder's Shield
1 Bladed Pinions
1 Trollhide
21 cards
 
Lands
7 Forest
5 Island
4 Plains
4 Shimmering Grotto
20 cards

Sacred Wolf


For a full analysis of the decklist, check out this excellent tournament report on MPDC 15.03 by PiDave here at PureMTGO.com. For our purposes though, let's concentrate on the cornerstones of this deck - the Hexproof creatures, the Auras, and the other means of boosting creatures through Equipment and Travel Preparations.

1. Spectral Flight is a fairly decent Enchantment as far as Auras go. It is highly efficient for its effect, giving a creature a +2 boost in both Power and Toughness as well as granting evasion through Flying. If one were to consider playing an Enchantment based strategy, this is a good example of an Aura that might be viable in Standard Pauper. Assuming one can play it while an opponent is tapped out, one has a decent chance of striking at least once before the creature is removed. However, combine this card with Sacred Wolf or even Gladecover Scout, one has a strong flyer that can typically power through any flyer on the opposite side of the virtual Battlefield and quickly reduce an opponent down to zero life in a handful of turns. In fact, even Aven Fleetwing is a viable target, since becoming a 4/4 flyer is powerful enough to overcome any other flyer in Standard Pauper.

2. Trollhide is somewhat similar to Spectral Flight in that it grants the same boost to Power and Toughness and makes an opponent less likely to block the creature thanks to Regeneration. This card has proved its value to me often in Magic 2012 Draft, where it provided a solid enhancement to a creature while protecting it from removal via Regeneration, albeit at the somewhat expensive cost of . Again, if one were to play an Enchantment strategy in Standard Pauper, this would be another viable choice. Yet its true value is only revealed in combination with Hexproof creatures, whereby it creates a creature that is virtually indestructible, since it cannot be targeted or killed in combat. While certainly still a viable attacker, Trollhide might even be more useful defensively, making it difficult and costly for your opponent to attack.

3. If this isn't already abundantly clear to you, let me make this point as strongly as possible: Lifelink is a terrible card. It does nothing to boost the Power or Toughness of the creature, does nothing to increase the odds that it will connect with your opponent, and given the relatively low Power of most creatures in Standard Pauper, gains only a meager amount of life. And yet, when placed on a Hexproof creature that has already been enhanced with a different Aura, Lifelink suddenly becomes this monstrous effect that in even one or two swings gains so much Life as to all but guarantee victory. This card, in essence, becomes the exemplar of what Hexproof can pull off in Standard Pauper - taking what is one of the worst cards in the entire cardpool and squeezing an insane amount of power out of it.

4. Although not a creature Aura, Travel Preparations has much the same effect while actually sidestepping many of the disadvantages associated with creature Enchantments. Since it is multi-targeted, one need not place all the enhancements on a single creature, reducing the possibility of a crippling 2-for-1. It is likewise very mana efficient, bestowing a total of 4 Power and Toughness for 4 mana. In combination with Hexproof, the boost it provides is not quite as powerful as some of the Auras, but the fact that it is an Instant rather than Enchantment allows a skilled player to hold onto it until the best moment, using it to change what would have been a trade for a Hexproof creature into pseudo-removal while simultaneously putting the creature effectively out of reach of dying from future combat.

5. Finally, as if these options weren't enough, Hexproof creatures can also take advantage of Equipment in a unique way. Despite it's "free" cost, Accorder's Shield has not seen much play in Standard Pauper, both for its expensive Equip cost and it lack of Power boost for a creature. However, when one knows that one will only have to pay the Equip cost once to protect a Hexproof creature, the additional defensive powers are much more relevant. Bladed Pinions is similar in that while it also fails to boost Power it does provide some relevant abilities in Flying and First Strike. Granting evasion and First Strike to Sacred Wolf is quite the beating, and makes this yet another relevant option for the Hexproof deck.

IV. Targetting Hexproof

And so, at last, we come to the heart of the issue. Given this powerful and seemingly unfair advantage of combining Hexproof creatures with relevant Auras, what options exist to take down this decklist? Unfortunately, there are not many cards capable of overcoming this combination, and including the relevant options can severely limit which decks one can choose to run. But at least in theory, one can "target" Hexproof in four ways:

First, one can cast a spell that destroys creatures without requiring a target. These type of spells come in two flavors: so-called "sweepers" that either destroy or deal a certain amount of damage to all creatures (or some subset of them), or "edict" type effects that require an opponent to sacrifice a creature (nicknamed for the most well-known of these spells, Diabolic Edict). Although the Zendikar block included both Seismic Shudder and Shrivel as Common sweepers, no such effects exist in the current Standard Pauper cardpool. Fortunately, New Phyrexia returned an "edict" style effect to Standard Pauper after a long absence of such effects at Common:

Geth's Verdict is far and away the best answer available to "target" Hexproof creatures. While the  cost can certainly be oppressive, the ability to force your opponent to sacrifice the creature that he or she has already spent additional cards on is quite the powerful effect. Granted, since your opponent gets to pick the creature, the effect in general is not as good as other Black removal spells such as Doom Blade or Grasp of Darkness. But it is nonetheless one of the better removal spells in the Standard Pauper cardpool. Careful timing for this spell makes a big difference. Nothing feels better than responding to your opponent casting Spectral Flight and Lifelink on his sole creature with flinging Geth's Verdict onto the stack. Just watch out for Negate or other permission spells, which are sure to come out of the Sideboard against you if you're running Black.

The second way to "target" Hexproof creatures is to keep them from entering the Battlefield in the first place. Cancel, Mana Leak, Lost in the Mist, and Psychic Barrier are all fairly decent permission spells in the cardpool to prevent these creatures from ever becoming a nuisance. This  strategy is particular effective against the Hexproof decklist, as a significant portion of the total spells in the list are absolute blanks when there are not any creatures on the Battlefield. However, like any strategy involving counterspells, this does require you to not only keep mana open each turn to stop any creature spell in its tracks, but also to have enough such spells to keep all the creatures off the board. Since most current decks are rarely running more than a playset of spells that can counter creatures, this is probably not a sufficient strategy to beat the Hexproof deck.

Similarly, one could also choose to counter the Aura before it can come into play, most likely with the ever-popular Negate. However, this is not likely to be as effective as keeping the creatures themselves out of play. 

Third, one can "target" Hexproof creatures by removing the Auras themselves at the right moment, reducing the creature back to its default state, where it can then be killed by, or at least traded with, one of your own creatures. Unfortunately, while Artifact removal is quite plentiful in the current cardpool, one's options for Enchantment removal has been greatly reduced with the loss of Kor Sanctifiers. Of the six options that exist in Standard Pauper, three are Instant Enchantment destruction spells (Naturalize, Demystify, and Urgent Exorcism), one is an Instant that exiles the Enchantment instead (Revoke Existence), and two are tied to creatures.

Sylvok Replica has not seen much play in Standard Pauper thus far, most likely simply because of the overall weakness of Green in general. But for 3 mana, one gets a decent defensive creature in a 1/3 with the very relevant ability to destroy either an Artifact or Enchantment by sacrificing the creature and paying an additional  . Silverchase Fox is a much more recent addition, taking over the role played by Kor Sanctifiers from Zendikar block. It is clearly a far inferior replacement, since it not only costs an extra mana but also requires you to sacrifice the creature. Nonetheless, the ability to exile the Enchantment instead of merely destroying it can be relevant, especially given the fact that Auramancer is now increasingly present in the metagame.

Typically, it is advantageous to have these abilities tied to a creature, since as a creature they remain relevant even when the Enchantment hate isn't needed. However, in this case, it might be that Revoke Existence is actually the better option against the Hexproof deck, since the information remains hidden from your opponent until it is played. After all, to effectively make use out of removing these Auras, one wants to also kill the Hexproof creature in the resulting combat. Otherwise, given the number of Enchantments in the Hexproof decklist, removing the Aura is not likely to make a significant contribution to defeating your opponent.

Finally, one can "target" Hexproof by bouncing the Enchantment during your opponent's Attack phase. This has much the same effect as destroying the Enchantment, as even if the spell is returned to your opponent's hand it ceases to be relevant if your opponent lacks a creature to recast it on. With the exception of Lost in the Mist, which also requires a spell to counter, there are only two bounce spells that can target Enchantments - (Dispense) and Quicksilver Geyser. Dispense is almost certainly the better choice, as the five converted mana cost of Quicksilver Geyser probably makes it too late to effectively deal with the Hexproof deck.

V. Taking Down Hexproof

So where does that leave us? The best effects against the Hexproof deck are probably Geth's Verdict, Revoke Existence, and Disperse, which unfortunately each require a different color mana source. Naturalize and Sylvok Replica are also certainly viable, but are hurt by the fact that Green is probably still the weakest color in Standard Pauper. Unless one is prepared to play two of these colors and splash a third by means of Shimmering Grotto or Traveler's Amulet, it is unlikely one will be able to tap into all of these effects. In the current metagame, the two best decks with a chance to consistently beat the Hexproof deck are B/W Control and B/U Control, both of which can make use of Geth's Verdict while supplementing this effect either with counterspells or Revoke Existence. One might consider splashing for one or more such effects when running other decklists, especially for the increasingly popular and effective mono-Red deck, which could easily splash Green via Shimmering Grotto to turn on both Ancient Grudge and Naturalize to give that deck some options against Hexproof and Artifacts alike.

Regardless of what options are chosen, it is clear that Hexproof will remain a solid contender until the metagame shifts enough to drive it out with the strategies discussed in this article. Like most Combo decks, Hexproof thrives best in an environment that is unprepared for it. As players become increasing familiar with the deck and have relevant Sideboard options, I predict that it will eventually be pushed back out of the metagame, at least for a time. Whatever deck you plan on bringing to the virtual table, make sure you have a relevant plan to target Hexproof.

VI. Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of the Hexproof mechanic and how to take down decklists in Standard Pauper that rely upon it. As always, let me remind you that if you would like a sneak peak at my video 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 so that you don't miss out on any of my content. Let me also extend a special thanks to all my fellow Standard Pauper players who have taken the time to thank me for these articles. If I have missed some viable method of dealing with the Hexproof strategy, I would certainly enjoy hearing about it in the comments. And let me say once again thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts, watch my videos, and comment on my articles. See you next time!

VII. Bonus Content

For those interested in how my Forbidden decklist from my last article fared in MPDC this week, here's a brief tournament report, as broadcast from my Twitter account:

Still reading? Sorry, that's it for today!

9 Comments

Your clear bias for by JMason at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 10:55
JMason's picture

Your clear bias for coventional strategies grates on me. I am always excited by new and different ideas. Even your card evaluations seem infected by your desire to see everything one way. Silverchase Fox is NOT clearly inferior to Kor Sanctifiers. It has different qualities for sure, including coming down one turn sooner, allowing you to get into the red zone and still be able to remove that enchantment when you're good and ready, unlike Sanctifiers that has to be held in hand or used up.
meh. ymmv.

You are probably spot on in by gwyned at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 12:58
gwyned's picture

You are probably spot on in regards to my bias.

However, I have to disagree about Silverchase Fox. In the environment with Kor Skyfisher, you never really had to choose between destroying an Enchantment or Artifact and having the creature, since you could always just bounce it back to hand. Against Hexproof, I don't like the fact that you are telegraphing your Enchantment hate to the Hexproof player with Silverchase Fox, since they will plan accordingly.

Now that's not to say that Kor Sanctifiers is strictly better. After all, there are corner cases where Silverchase Fox would be better. But in overall evaluation, my preference would be Sanctifiers.

A few errors by kaifeiyu at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 11:31
kaifeiyu's picture

Just a few errors which grates on me whilst reading this.

1. Travel Preparations is not an instant and can not be used as a combat trick.
2. Revoke Existence is not an instant

In tacking hexproof you either concentrate on the creatures or concentrate on the creature boosts.

Concentrating on the creatures are really only viable for UB control where there are enough cards to interact with their creatures. You need to literally counter each of thier 12 creatures and remove the ones that gets through with geth's verdict. If you fail in this you have a second line of defence by countering thier 9 ways of gaining flight and then gravedigger lock them, they can't do any damage cause they have no envasion or tample and eventually you'll have enough power/toughness so that they can't attack, don't be afraid to trade of 2 or 3 cards for thier voltroned creature, they most likely spent 2 or 3 cards in enchantments anyways and you're not even losing out in card advantage

All the other colors really have to interact with the creature boosts preferably at instant speed to net a 2 for 1 with some blocks.

Trying to interact with thier whole deck is a bit of a waste, why fight fair when you can net vitural card advantage of half thier deck.

The other way to beat hexproof is to tempo them out, They're paying a lot of mana to get out not that much thoughness worth off creatures even with enchantment pumps, so just win before they have time to voltron you with a unbeatable "lifelinking" monster. Lifelink's in hexproof's deck as a direct counter to this stratagy and is actually quite a good card if you compare it to the very good armadillo cloak in classic. Is it really the +2/+2 and trample that makes armadillo cloak good? no it's the ability to negate attacks by proactively attacking, getting the best defence by being offensive.

Look at it this way how many times have you played a close match vs red and are just about to stabilize on the board but can't attack for many a turn cause all your creatures have to sit and block all the time counting down the timer when the red player draws his burn spells to finish you off. It's the worst feeling, lifelink totally gets around that. Which is alos where Accorder's Shield comes in providing the same thing, the ability to attack whilst not compromising your defensive board position vs red aggro decks.

Just my two cents

Wow those are bad mistakes by gwyned at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 12:54
gwyned's picture

You are absolutely right. The mistake on the Instant vs. Socery thing on Travel Prepations and Revoke Existence is inexcusable. Thanks for pointing that out.

I honesty am not sure how effective it would be to out-tempo the Hexproof deck. As you mention, both Lifelink and Accorder's Shield seem to be able to prevent that quite well. Which is why I don't claim that you can out tempo or race Hexproof.

Great rundown overall - I by deluxeicoff at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 13:56
deluxeicoff's picture
4

Great rundown overall - I sure wish wiz would support this format officially, till then I just can't seem to get into it :(

If you want STD Pauper supported by gwyned at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 15:14
gwyned's picture

If you haven't done so already, here's how to make your voice heard regarding official support for Standard Pauper, straight from Community Cup participant joekewwl:

Main person's ear you want to hear about this is Chris Kiritz:
chris.kiritz@wizards.com

I would also go here and email CS so they put it through the proper channels: http://wizards.custhelp.com/app/ask
You will need to be logged into your Wotc boards account to use this.

Please make sure which ever place you email tell them your from the pdcmagic.com community and what and why you want it.

Thanks, Joe

Auras... by Fred1160 at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 16:45
Fred1160's picture

People hate on auras all the time. I see how they can net a two-for-one for the opponent,
but I don't think they are so bad that they are unplayable. I built a blue-white infect deck
that uses auras and I've been running it at FNM and having a lot of fun (and success) doing so.
Even after my opponents lose, they can't believe they were beaten by a deck with auras. (BTW, I am 11-2 and I've won two FNM's with it.)
People fixate on the possibility of a two-for-one and don't see the value you can get with an aura.
Card advantage is more than counting the cards in your hand. If an aura can get me some poison counters
that I would not otherwise have, I have gotten enough value from the card that it was worthwhile.
When Spectral Flight nabs two, four, or even six additional poison counters, then I've gotten my money's worth from the card. There is an equipment card that does the exact same thing that Spectral Flight does: it's Skinwing and it costs four to cast and six to equip. That's way too slow to be playable.
Enchantments are at a low tide in standard right now. No one runs main deck enchantment removal other
than Oblivion Rings. I realize that the article itself is about pauper, a format I do not play, but the subject of auras caught my attention. I would like to point out a couple more auras that are useful in the right situations: Divine Favor (which can gain you three life and put a creature out of easy burn range) and Spirit Mantle (which gives +1/+1 and protection from creatures). Slap a Spirit Mantle on a Priests of Norn and let the good times roll!

I really don't understand why by Cownose at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 17:01
Cownose's picture

I really don't understand why people doing something other than casting guys and turning them sideways bothers you so much. That's how magic works, there are different strategies for winning. Complaining about people doing things other than casting dorks and removal spells does not reflect well on you as it comes off as whining. Reminds me of the guys in ca's/ca's who add "no ld or counters or discard or mill or expensive cards..." to all their games

Let me be clear: I am not by gwyned at Fri, 11/18/2011 - 17:42
gwyned's picture

Let me be clear:

I am not saying that such players or such decks are "bad"; I am not saying that such people are losers, or that no one should ever play a deck like that. In fact, when an unorthodox strategy comes out of nowhere, it can be very effective and a great metagame choice.

What I am saying is that I don't enjoy when my opponents play strategies that I can't interact with. Poison in Std Pauper can be like that - if the player has the right combo of protection, creatures, and pump, they'll win, period. Mill can be similar, although at least in that case you can always be aggressive and try to get a win. Hexproof is similar in that once it gets going, there isn't a lot one can do to counteract the person's play.

At that point, it can feel like watching someone play solitaire.

So, here's all I mean: I don't enjoy playing matches against those sorts of deck. Is that personal preference wrong?