Jason Moore is 25 years old, and a resident of Los Angeles
California. He began playing Magic seriously in 2010, and has developed a
strong interest in MTGO and the Pauper format. He is one of the hosts of the
podcast Pauper's Cage, and has covered Pauper on other
websites and his YouTube page. His other interests include acting,
writing and playing guitar.
Where Have All The Combos Gone?
The January 28th bans are perhaps the biggest thing to happen to Pauper in years. In case you somehow missed the big news, three cards have been removed from the Pauper format. They are Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot and Invigorate. This more than doubles the preexisting ban list (which consisted of only Cranial Plating and Frantic Search). The recent decision to ban these format staples has prompted mixed reactions, and instilled both relief and frustration in members of the Pauper community. If one thing is certain, it’s this: the combo archetype in Pauper has taken a major hit. Today, I’d like to discuss combo’s future, and ultimately try to determine if it even has one.
Pick Your Poison
While Infect has been stripped of its most devastating spell, the deck is not necessarily going to disappear from the metagame as a result. Infect players may be better off adjusting their strategy slightly, rather than adopting an entirely new one. With many players expecting Cloudpost to imperialize Pauper Daily Events (now that two of its nemeses have been nerfed), the decision to sleeve up Glistener Elf might be a commendable one.
Is the deck generally slower now? Yes, but not so much that it can’t still dispatch opponents within the first three or four turns. There are also a handful of benefits to playing the green sickos at this point in time: the deck is a lot cheaper now, it preys upon Cloudpost’s slow mana and receives a lot less residual hate from anti-Empty the Warrens cards like Electrickery, Holy Light, Sandstorm etc.
Below is a list I would start with if you are considering Infect:
I’m not playing any specialty lands, because I want to resolve all of my threats and pump spells as quickly as possible. This deck is very powerful early, but will lose effectiveness the longer the game goes on. For that reason, catering our mana base towards the early game is paramount.
I like having Seal of Strength as an alternate Turn 1 play. This allows us to protect our two-drop from damage, and maximize our mana each turn if we don’t have an Elf. The creature base is pretty orthodox, with Rot Wolf over Cystbearer to occasionally garner some card advantage.
The deck runs eight counterspells in the form of Apostle's Blessing and Vines of Vastwood. This to me is a necessity, since our creatures are both small and small in number. These cards also serve other purposes: Blessing can allow one creature to go unblocked and swing for lethal, while Vines can account for almost half of the enemy’s poison total. Mutagenic Growth works well as a pseudo Gather Courage, screwing up combat math for the opposition and countering their damage spells when tapped out.
Rancor is (as always) a house, and makes blocking these creatures a nightmare. Groundswell can be very devastating early, but later in the game it’s usually correct to hold back lands until the time is right (to activate landfall). Lastly, Gitaxian Probe allows us to script our sequence of plays. We can determine what we need to play around, or breathe a sigh of relief upon realizing that the coast is clear.
I wouldn’t be surprised if players mistakenly end up either neglecting or underestimating Infect in the coming weeks. If they do, at least a few green mages will be around to make them pay for it.
Guard Your Secrets
I can’t blame you if you’ve forgotten about Midnight Guard. He was dismissed early on after the release of Dark Ascension, but he’s still the Pauper equivalent of Deceiver Exarch. When paired with Presence of Gond, we have immediate access to a limitless army of dudes. While this combo is still vulnerable, it gets a lot of help from the January 28th announcement. First of all, this combo was maligned as a worseEmpty the Warrens. Guess what? There is no more Empty the Warrens. Moreover, sweepers and hate cards like Echoing Truth will likely no longer be in fashion, which would make this combo almost impossible to stop once assembled.
The tricky part is protecting the Guard long enough to resolve Presence, and crafting a shell that best facilitates the combo. Here is my attempt at it:
I like the idea of a primarily blue deck. This allows us not only to assemble the combo, but also to protect it. It also gives us the huge benefit of an alternate game plan. Delver of Secrets meshes well with the high instant and sorcery count, and diverts attention early while we threaten a game-ending finish. Drift of Phantasms provides added consistency, can tutor either combo piece and can be used as a blocker in a pinch.
Ponder and Brainstorm are great here. They flip Delver early, assemble the combo and synergize with fetches to shuffle away elements we don’t need. Preordain rounds out the dig, but just as a one-of (to avoid egregious redundancy).
This combo, while somewhat fragile, could be an interesting way to shake up the Pauper metagame. We’ll see if anyone courageous (or mischievous) will attempt it! By the way, you can watch me play this deck in the videos below.
(Don’t) Get Familiar
When it comes to combo, Temporal Fissure decks are just about the only viable storm strategies left. Esper and Simic lists have been placing in Dailies even before the January 28th announcements, and they should continue to do so. While I could spend time covering the variants of Temporal Storm, I simply don’t want to. I find Temporal Fissure very annoying to play against, so I’m going to promote it as little as possible! Hopefully the metagame will gear itself towards hating these decks out, and fast!
Get Out a Dodge
For those looking to play something a bit more fiendish, I have just the deck for you. This one has been around for a while, and can be surprisingly explosive. It’s similar to infect in terms of its game plan, but has more control over its draws. I call this deck Izzet Fiend, but I’ve heard to it referred to as WeeFiend among other things.
The deck relies on Delver of Secrets, and the triggered abilities of Kiln Fiend and Wee Dragonauts to inflict a devastating amount of damage. A mix of cheap instants and sorceries grant evasion, while simultaneously pumping up power. Though Kiln Fiend is the most explosive of the three creatures, the others have built-in evasion. I think this is one of the quintessential Izzet decks. The pilot takes on the role of a mad scientist, enhancing his or her creations to an unwieldy size.
The list I would start with is largely inspired by ones that have appeared online. I’ve made a few minor tweaks, but retained the overall feel of the strategy. Check it out below:
The main weakness here is the overall lack of threats. It becomes very important to try and keep one alive, since drawing subsequent threats is not always a sure thing. As usual, Delver will run away with games if unchecked, and sometimes one turn is all it takes to deliver a game-ending assault.
Assault Strobe can be absolutely crippling if utilized optimally, and the blue and red elements complement each other well by subverting the opponent’s answers and piling on extra damage in the process. Artful Dodge seems quite efficient due to its cheap initial and flashback costs. Ponder and Delver are still BFFs, and I could see Goblin Electromancer making his way into future variations of the deck.
Izzet Fiend can be explosive and at times unstable, typifying its corresponding guild quite nicely.
There is an entirely new combo dynamic available to us in the Pauper format. In the months to come, entirely new combos may see play. Conversely, combo could potentially experience a steep decline in terms of Pauper representation. It is an interesting and uncertain time to be playing the format, and I hope you will take time out to explore the possibilities.
Please let me know what kind of content you’d like to see in the future, and what you think of the recent bans. If you want me to try out one of these combo decks (or even a completely different one), don’t hesitate to let me know! I have a quite a few decks in mind for future installments, but I’m open to your suggestions. Thanks for reading, and please enjoy the gameplay videos below!
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