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By: blandestk, K.R.S.S.
Jan 01 2009 1:42am
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The joy of commons-only deck building has consumed much of my Magic time in the past couple months, so I figured I would make my foray into article writing based on the deck I have found the most fun to pilot in Pauper: Slivers.  These innocuous-looking devils are designed to create nasty monsters and that is exactly what they can do in Classic Pauper.  On their own, most slivers barely affect a board, but, once you get several onto the battlefield, they become undercosted beasts that can wreck nearly every deck in the format.

When I entered the world of Pauper, the first deck to which I gravitated was Mono-Blue Control.  I've always loved the patience and skill the blue decks demand.  Next I took to piloting Grand Entrance, a blue and white control deck championed on this very site by Walker.  The choices and strategies a player can employ with the deck are always enjoyable and can keep the Magic experience exciting.  But neither deck can compare, in my opinion, to the sheer pandemonium of the sliver-synergy.  Let's take a look at how the deck works.



The Sliver Factory

When I think of slivers, the first cards that come to mind are those that pump power and toughness.  The deck had success before the release of Tempest on the back of Sinew Sliver, who gives each of the menaces +1/+1.  But the online release of Tempest added the exciting prospect of doubling the pumpers, with the addition of Muscle Sliver.  Suddenly the pumping ability was not just a bonus, but the backbone of a strategy for creating enormously efficient giants.  It was almost like the creative department decided to have fun when they printed Sinew Sliver.  Which is more important to our strength?  The muscles or the sinews that string them together?

Though the pumpers constitute 1/3 of our main deck sliver count, they are actually not the deck's MVPs.  What really makes the deck hum is its mixture of speed and size, which actually parlays into staying power.  Though aggressively-costed Aggro decks that feature a lot of direct damage can create a glut of early life loss to an opponent, one of the main weaknesses to these types of decks is hitting the wall and sputtering.  How many times have we seen a control deck stabilize at just the right moment and turn the red slinger into a top-decker?  The beauty of the slivers deck is that it does not often fall prey to this problem.  How?  Sidewinder Sliver!     

The 1/1 creature does not pump the power or toughness of its compatriots like Muscle Sliver, Sinew Sliver, or Plated Sliver, but it grants the gift that keeps on giving: flanking.  Flanking is often thought to be a second-tier ability, but flanking is downright silly in the slivers deck.  Even if a player has amassed some sort of ground defense that would  normally be able to trade with several, if not all, of the slivers in this deck, Sidewinder Sliver almost always allows our offense to survive an attack.  The main benefit of this fact is not even that we get to live, but instead that it creates a disadvantageous blocking situation for the opponent.  Why block when flanking will save nearly the whole team?  I find the opponent nearly never blocks any of the oncoming slivers when flanking is in place, which allows us to deal a great deal of damage quickly.

Virulent Sliver    The other superstar is another 1/1 guy who often looks unassuming, but ends up packing a big punch: Virulent Sliver.  Poison counters are one of my favorite ways to end a game.  Nothing feels better than to have three slivers on the board by Turn 2 and nailing the opponent with eight poison counters by the end of your third turn (Virulent Turn 1, Plated/Sidewinder and Virulent Turn 2).  The sliver who packs the virus only compounds the problem the opponent faces in blocking we discussed above.  If your board has four 3/3 slivers (2 Muscle/Sinew, Virulent, Sidewinder) and you attack with the team and, somehow, the opponent has managed four 3/3 creatures, what should the opponent do?  Let them all crash in, take 12 and snag four poison counters?  Double up on the two pumpers so the whole team takes a hit in the future? This course might seem the best, but then you can easily see your plans ruined as we play another pumper or, as often happens, two other slivers this turn to be followed by a pumper on the next.

The point is that Virulent Sliver provides the opponent with an impetus to block, while Sidewinder Sliver gives them an incentive not to block.  This synergy will either disorient or overwhelm an opponent.  Often an opponent will spend resources on creatures with which he or she would normally not bother.  If I had a dollar for every time an opponent has hit a 1/1 creature for one green mana with a Lightning Bolt I would probably be able to save all the car makers in Detroit.  The interconnectedness of the slivers is absurd.  You can legitimately have five (five!) 2/3 flanking, poisonous 1 creatures on the board after Turn 3.  With limited removal in hand for most opponents, which cog do you neutralize?  Most players opt for the Muscle or Sinew, but I usually just shrug it off and plop another onto the field or add double flanking or poisonous 2 to the mix.  After all, nearly half the deck is made of creatures.  You just keep reloading.


The Plan

So far, so good on some of the synergy and theory behind the deck, but how do we turn strategy into tactics?  The usual course of action is to play Virulent, Plated, or Sidewinder on Turn 1 and then follow with friends on Turn 2.  The natural impulse is to throw Muscle or Sinew into the fray on Turn 2 so you can start dealing more damage, but I have found this path often finds your pumpers taking removal to the chin.  Outside of quick, spot removal, by the end of Turn 2, you can often have three slivers in place, which is a daunting board for nearly any deck.  If you manage to get Spinneret Sliver into play on Turn 2 and then pump the team with Muscle or Sinew on Turn 3, the opponent better have some sort of plan in place or you will likely overrun him or her quickly.  (A quick aside: Spinneret is mainly for the bigger frame, since you rarely find reach to be necessary)  Basically, the plan is to spit out as many slivers as possible.  If you hold a handful of slivers, it rarely matters on the order.  I find the best plan is often to put out as many Virulent, Plated, and Sidewinders as possible before you bring in the power/toughness enhancers.  Unabated, just playing your creatures can often win games in mere turns.

On the play, a nuts sequence:

Turn 1   Turn 2     Turn 3      
Plated Sliver + Plated Sliver Virulent Sliver + Sidewinder Sliver Sinew Sliver = The Nuts

That draw happens quite a bit, or something near it, at least.

There are Non-Creature Cards?

The creatures are so good together that I have completely neglected non-creature spells to this point.  Thrill of the Hunt is a back-breaker to many decks.  Facing instant damage to a key sliver?  Thrill not only saves it, but will force the opponent to eat another spell to make things work.  Often just one usage is enough to save a sliver or the team for the rest of a turn.  Attacking into an opponent who might manage to take out some of your attackers, despite flanking and increased toughness?  Thrill becomes a mini-Giant Growth and keeps us chugging along.  Often you will stare down utility creatures, such as Chittering Rats, or other efficient creatures, such as Spire Golem, and you don't want to worry about the opponent blocking.  Enter Temporal Isolation.  Many proponents of this deck feature Oblivion Ring, but in my experience in Pauper to this point, I rarely use O-Rings on anything but creatures.  This fact gives Temporal Isolation two advantages: cost and speed.  You can isolate a creature during the end step (which helps against Mono-Blue) or you can use it during your attack phase.  When we want to play as many creatures as possible, the move from a casting cost of three to two can do wonders.  I find Temporal Isolation to be much better for our purposes.     

You will notice two cards often relegated to Sideboards in our main deck.  These are heavily-metagamed inclusions.  Prismatic Strands and Holy Light are ungodly good at thwarting the big, bad bogey of the room: Storm.  Sometimes, even if we manage to unleash a blitzkrieg army, the Storm player can take 16 damage or eight poison counters and still go off on the next turn.  Without these cards, our deck has no way of stopping them.  If they try to hit you with Grapeshot, Strands is your best friend.  Do they think they are slick by generating 24 goblin tokens via Empty the Warrens?  Show your opponent the (Holy) Light.  The reason these cards are able to be included in the main deck is the fact that they are not dead to other uses.  Both cards can find a utility against Black or Red decks with ease.  Just make sure to have at least a Plated Sliver on the board before you use Holy Light and lose your own Virulent Sliver.

   I am certain the most controversial inclusion in my build will not be Temporal Isolation over Oblivion Ring, but the trimming of a land to fit in Cenn's Enlistment.  This deck emphatically does not need 23 lands.  I never find myself wanting to hit a fifth land when I play this deck.  I can do everything I need with four or fewer lands.  Nothing bothers me more than drawing dead land, especially in a deck that does not need much.  Though Cenn's Enlistment does not create slivers, I have found it invaluable for occasions when the deck needs to hit a long game.  Either I just draw a large percentage of land (even with only 22) or Enlistment is a good inclusion, because I have found it has huge game against decks of all types, from Mono-Blue to Mono-Black to Burn.  Usually you are ahead on the damage race and, even if a player has managed to clear your sliver army, two 1/1s that can sometimes come in each turn often finish the deal.


The Sideboard

One of the deck's biggest challengers is Mono-Black Control.  If they can force you to discard to the point that you cannot hit critical mass on the board with slivers, you might have a problem, even with the 2/2 body of a Chittering Rat.  Since our card costs are so low, we can often get away with discarding land and still have enough resources to amass our infantry.  That said, once you sideboard in Obsidian Acolyte, things are dicey for Mono-Black.  If you can stick the Acolyte and have mana open to grant your slivers protection from black, they are in for a world of hurt.  They can't block, they can't remove.  Basically, you win.  It is an amazing card for this match-up.

Obsidian Acolyte


The most straightforward card is Circle of Protection: Red.  Burn can be a tough match, since good draws can keep up with you in terms of direct damage.  With COP on the board, they are forced to burn your creatures, which puts the game strongly in your favor.  Not only do you often get to the point where they will need two spells to get rid of one sliver, but even if they do manage to clear your team, you can reload while they have absolutely no way of hitting you.

The extra Holy Light comes in against Storm.  Usually that is the only card I will move into the deck against Storm, since the deck is tailored to beat it anyway and does not need much help.

Many people run three copies of Armadillo Cloak, but I cut one for the fourth Acolyte.  The Cloak usually comes in against Burn or Aggro decks and is a way to stabilize if they decide to burn your life total instead of creatures, but I have honestly found it to be less effective than I would like.  You do not want to throw the Cloak on an early beater, since it will likely find removal and you'll be at a card disadvantage.  Such, you have to wait for the opportune moment.  If the Cloak sticks, however, the math of a close game often swings big time into your favor.  Since I like to save it for action past the opening turns, I found two copies to be sufficient.

   Now, many people advocate the inclusion of Quick Sliver into the sideboard for games against Mono-Blue Control.  While they do add value to your deck against that foe, I find you really don't need them to beat MUC.  Often the early creatures are enough to neuter them early.  By the time they have their bigger creatures on board, your flanking and inflated creatures can take them down anyway.  The Quick Sliver does allow you to have some increased game in the mirror match, however, moving your sliver count all the way to 28.  Still, I have thought about removing them from the sideboard in favor of something else, perhaps artifact and enchantment removal or even Oblivion Ring if I find a game against another creature-heavy deck, such as the mirror match.


Mixing Up Your Play


Sometimes you might find that dumping all your slivers to the board as quickly as possible might not be the best strategy.  If you face Burn or Discard, sometimes you want to play it safe and just peck away at life totals or go for the poison counters.  If you are playing against a Burn deck and the opponent realizes he must slow down your slivers or he will be gone in a hurry, do not just send them to board.  Keep Thrill of the Hunt mana open and make them waste a ton of cards before you bring out the big boys to seal the deal.  Unless you can get the toughness count up to four or five for your team quickly, sometimes it is wise to remain on the cautious side.  Likewise against Mono-Black Control.  If you have two lands on the board, but know they pack discard, keep your third and fourth land in hand and toss them to the discard effects instead of playing the land and doling out your team.  You might find you need to keep key spells or creatures for later in the game.  An early Crypt Rat is the worst enemy to the deck.  If you find yourself against the mass removal, keep your slivers on board to a minimum and allow yourself to play Thrill to save key creatures or Holy Light to take out the Rat before he can do his dirty deed.  Either the Black player will churn out the Rat as early as possible (Turn 3, looking for Turn 4 activation), at which point you can nuke him with the Light while he is tapped out, or hold it until he can blow it on the same turn as it is cast, which is optimum for you because you have likely dealt a bunch of damage (and more will come his way thanks to the Rat) and your team is often big enough to live through the activation.

Point is, don't mindlessly toss your slivers onto the board.  Just because they become enormous without much thought does not mean you can autopilot through the game.  Be smart!

I hope you've enjoyed this look at Slivers.  The deck is highly explosive and has game against nearly all opponents in the Pauper Realm.  I look forward to comments on the deck and the article, as I would like to write more in the future!


The Mirror by Lythand at Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:38
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Any suggestions for the Mirror match up?

by blandestk at Sat, 01/03/2009 - 21:49
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The mirror is tough because, unlike most mirrors, you can't just add an additional part to the engine to break symmetry.  The Cloaks are good against the mirror and I don't see many sliver decks actually play them (or at least they don't hit the draw).  The mirror is another reason to play Temporal Isolation.  It's a turn faster than O-Ring and most sliver decks don't really pack Enchantment removal.  The "traditional" method is to add Quick Slivers.  But again that helps both teams.

If the deck remains prevalent, we might have to develop additional cards to supplant some sideboard material.  Perhaps O-Rings to give us slower Isolations 4-8 or Sigil Blessings to create positive attacks. 

by khirareq at Fri, 01/02/2009 - 16:36
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"I think, though, that it shows the strength of the deck that various different cards can go in and not affect the raw power of the backbone."

Agreed.  The cake is awesome; all that's left to argue about is the flavor of icing.

by blandestk at Fri, 01/02/2009 - 16:11
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Overall, I agree with the statement about blue, that's why I don't find it necessary to include.

All the reasons you mentioned in the paragraph regarding Temporal vs. O-Ring are the reasons I choose Temporal over the Ring.  O-Ring is just as susceptible to enchantment removal; Ninjas and Blink have been almost no shows in my experience lately.  Further, Ninja/Blink/Bounce in response to an Isolation is all at a major cost of tempo.  This deck usually requires under five or six turns to win.  Spending a turn on saving/bouncing one creature or adding the ninja who can't block on the next turn loses crucial time for the opponent.  Innocent Blood and recursion falls prey to the same loss of tempo.  If those strategies were hugely prevalent, I might agree with you, but the rise of Storm has taken slower blue strats away recently and, frankly, the Innocent Blood + recursion decks are too slow to deal with slivers.  O-Ring is obviously good, but it's not really needed in the deck.

I understand what you mean about adding Quick Slivers, but I really never find myself short on creatures, so the 1/1 for two is never really missed.

I think, though, that it shows the strength of the deck that various different cards can go in and not affect the raw power of the backbone. 

by khirareq at Fri, 01/02/2009 - 15:25
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You don't need blue for permission in pauper.  The white works really well; in fact it's one of the reasons for the deck's success.  Prismatic Strands counters Corrupt, Martyr of Ashes, Evincar's Justice, and Crypt Rats (sort of), which are the primary threats to the deck.  You can throw in all other sorts of white control as well, such as COP: Red, various protection effects, etc.  If I were to run blue, it would be almost entirely to get more slivers.  So far I've not found that to be necessary.

I don't agree with Temporal Isolation in the current pauper environment.  Yes, the price and ability to counter crypt rats at instant speed are good, but so many more decks run ways around this card than do Oblivion Ring.  In addition to enchantment removal isolation is vulnerable to ninjas, blink, bounce, even innocent blood + recursion.  The Ring does not suffer these vulnerabilities, and hits cloaks and bonesplitters besides.  If I were to replace it, I would use Gelid Shackles as a first choice, with Sunlance as a second.

I also think you are running to few slivers maindeck.  Yes, I just said that running half the deck as slivers is too few.  Your main synergy is clogging the board with slivers, yet you have no card drawing.  Therefore you have to rely on having a great many of them in the deck.  At a minimum I would switch out holy light for quick slivers between main and side, since storm has been less prevalent of late.

In all I enjoyed the article, and I'm glad you are having success with the deck!

by Katastrophe at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 19:56
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I had a pre-Tempest casual deck where the only rare was Summoner's Pact. I used Virulent Sliver and Two-Headed Sliver to force through poison counters. I also had the common slivercycler in there to make sure I had my Virulent Slivers. (And the Fires sliver. That's basically the whole deck right there.) But your deck is so much better. And pauper legal!

I'm one of the people guilty of making 42 bolts / 18 lands so popular in pauper. But if a deck like this can be fun and competitive then maybe more red players will switch just because they're bored. 

Good Stuff! by hamtastic at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 10:35
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I've been working on a Peasant Slivers (same premise, but +5 uncommons).

I like the idea of the Holy Light.  I hadn't remembered that card, I may have to look into it.

Thrill of the Hunt is fantastic, and I'm thinking about trying out Sigil Blessing at some point as we're a swarm-y deck...  Might be worth trying.

I don't know if it's worth it for PDC, but I've been loving the wizard-cycler card and a few 'silver bullet' slivers for certain match-ups.  I think it's not worth it in PDC as you can't search up a Root Sliver or Harmonic Sliver for MUC/Affinity match-ups, respectively.  You can, however, cycle it into a Nameless Inversion... but then you have to run black (usually via Terramorphic Expanse->Swamp... but I digress)

I'm finding that Slivers are surprisingly strong in the common based formats so far.  They can stay out of reach of the normal board sweepers and can do some damage very fast.

by blandestk at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 16:04
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Thanks to everyone for the comments and ideas.

@whiffy and spg: I will work on a match-up and meta article.  The deck definitely has game.

@lythand: The Muscle Slivers are a big part of this deck, as you get eight +1/+1 instead of four, which makes a huge difference.  In my testing with slivers, I haven't really needed the flying for the horde you get with blue, BUT there's definitely something to be said for the control element blue can add instead.  If a deck manages to slow down G/W it's often tough to win the long game, where being blue can help.

@ham: I'm not sure how prevalent storm is in Peasant, but Holy Light is an absolute back breaker against Empty the Warrens.  And it works very well against black decks with small creatures and the occasional red deck with Martyrs, etc.

I originally had Sigil Blessing in the deck and it's amazing.  Not only can it be a combat trick that saves a guy and pushes more damage through from non-blocked attackers, but when the opponent decides not to block, whether due to flanking or other reasons, Sigil Blessing can turn into the Anti-Time Walk for your oppoent, losing a whole turn because of all the damage you pour through.  That said, there are tons of red decks floating around Pauper at the moment and the card advantage that Thrill provides tends to be a bit better at the moment.  Sigil makes for more explosive, faster wins, but Thrill keeps you going.  It's a tough choice.  We had a small debate about Thrill/Sigil at PDC and I think I might agree with the Thrill for the time being.

I really wish Harmonic were a common, the deck would be nuts.  But alas.  Affinity does not tend to be a problem, though, thanks to flanking.  And yes, slivers are very strong in common-based formats.  I think this is the current deck to beat in Pauper.

Nice by Lythand at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 12:53
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I read Peter Jahns article on controle slivers, which isn't too far off this deck. I tried to make that deck, but it ended up being something closer to this. My version though does run the three colors of Blue White and a splash of green. Due mostly to the fact it is hard to get the muscle slivers. Once I get them, the deck will change probably to this. Until then it is very control oriented..

by Rerepete at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 10:52
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I always had asoft spot for Slivers

keep it up by whiffy at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 06:56
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very nice, although i am unsure of the meta and if ill ever find my self in it this article was well thought out and written. A nice read to say the least.

Cool Article by spg at Thu, 01/01/2009 - 07:55
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Cool article - I'd love to read a followup with strategies and sideboad plans against some of the top decks in the format.  Keep up the good work!

what other slivers would u by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 02/12/2009 - 18:56
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what other slivers would u run if your running more?

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