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Running Free


What does it take for a new card to succeed in Pauper? The all-commons format was the latest Constructed offering to receive leagues on Magic Online. As such, there is a huge amount of raw data on what has been blitzing through these events at a 5–0, undefeated clip.

Unsurprisingly, there is a ton of blue at the top. This should come as no surprise, as Pauper is a nonrotating format with a small banned list. Ponder and Preordain continue to reign here and help to form the backbone of the most heavily played deck: Delver:

Playing Delver is like playing Blue’s Greatest Hits. You have the original, often-imitated-but-never-duplicated Counterspell and the sweet suite of Ponder and Preordain, sometimes supplemented by Gitaxian Probe and Brainstorm. Spire Golem holds down the fort late with Ninja of the Deep Hours keeping the cards flowing. But that early game, it is the stuff of dreams.

Delver of Secrets is one piece of the puzzle, but the key is Cloud of Faeries. Casting this Urza’s Legacy creature on turn two sets up Delver’s game. Now there is at least one threat on the board, and it helps to set up some of the best ways to say no: Counterspell or a comrade of kin Spellstutter Sprite. This opening helps to shrink the game for Delver, as it can cement an advantage on the board and lock out opponents.

Clearing this hurdle is the first step on the path to seeing play in Pauper.

One deck that has had a history of performing well against Delver is Goblins. A highly redundant deck with access to some fantastic anti-Delver spells, Goblins can deploy multiple threats per turn while holding back Lightning Bolt or Death Spark. Death Spark is perhaps the best card at fighting Delver, as it trades with so many key cards.

Goblins is getting a brand new toy come Oath of the Gatewatch that may help push the red menace up the rank once again. Allow me to introduce you to Goblin Freerunner.

Now that is a Goblin I can get behind. Let’s get something important out of the way: If your first spell of the turn is countered, you can still cast Freerunner for its surge cost.

Do you see where I am going here?

Goblin Freerunner is quite the anti-Delver card. It can easily come down on turn three without biasing a deck too hard, and it has the advantage of being challenging to stop with a Spellstutter Sprite (remember that its converted mana cost is always 4). Having menace means it will trade with almost any two of Delver’s creatures early. While I would be hesitant to run the full four in a land-light deck, finding space for two or three seems easy.

Of course, we can also build to optimize Freerunner in Goblins. Gut Shot is a common thanks to Modern Masters (2015 Edition), which means this card can come down on the second turn. I’ll blow up your Cloud of Faeries and land a 3/2, thank you very much. The presence of Gut Shot and Goblin Freerunner in the same deck introduces a new element to the first two turns of the Goblins–Delver matchup. Now it becomes a game of asking, “Does my opponent have it?” on both sides of the battlefield. I could see starting here for a version of Goblins with Oath of the Gatewatch.

How does Goblin Freenrunner stack up against the other big decks in the format? Not too badly.

The current number two is Esper Combo, a deck based on looping Cloud of Faeries and Mnemonic Wall with Ghostly Flicker, Azorius Chancery, or Dimir Aqueduct and on Sage's Row Denizen to generate an unbounded loop that reduces an opposing library to zero.

Goblin Freerunner, again in concert with Gut Shot, helps to apply some serious pressure in this matchup. Access to Sunscape Familiar and Sea Gate Oracle makes it very easy for Esper to absorb early blows. Freenrunner’s menace can exert additional force on a life total while sidestepping early defenses. In what is normally a race in which Goblins is a turn too short, Freerunner may provide that extra bit of oomph.

The other top deck at the moment is a three-colored, midrange, value Jeskai Metalcraft build. Based on Kor Skyfisher and Ichor Wellspring, artifact lands, and Galvanic Blast, Kuldotha Jeskai can gum up the ground while drawing quite a few cards. The mana base blunts assaults by leaning on the Khans of Tarkir gain lands. Eventually, Kor Skyfisher will fly over and soften a life total for Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast to do their job.

Goblins has a tough time against Jeskai, and I am not sure Freerunner does enough to save the matchup. It will come in handy by absorbing some burn spells, but that may not be enough. I have found that a key card out of Goblins to keeping Jeskai off balance is Gorilla Shaman. Shaman does yeoman’s work against Affinity but can help to stall the artifact-reliant Jeskai builds as well. In tandem, these cards may help give Goblins a chance, but it is still an uphill battle.

There are a few other “free” cards available to Pauper. Gitaxian Probe is one, but the format also contains Lotus Petal. The Petal is attractive, as it facilitates a turn-one Freerunner. As Delver of Secrets shows, a 3/2 on turn one is a great way to end games. Red can also cast Manamorphose for a “free” card and has access to the banned-in-Modern Rite of Flame. With all these enables available, it would be downright irresponsible to not attempt the following deck:

This deck has it all: turn-one Freerunner, early Gurmag Anglers, a low land count, and a ton of interaction. Green is another possible color here, as Hooting Mandrills is a fine card, but 4 toughness puts it firmly in range of Flame Slash and Galvanic Blast.

All this, and we haven’t even touched on Goblin Freenrunner’s other creature type: Ally. While this will certainly have applications in Limited—and possibly Standard—Pauper lacks a good Ally deck, and Goblin Freerunner is not going to change that. Instead, the newest threat gives decks besides blue access to a serious beater in the early game. That alone may help Freerunner find success in Pauper and possibly beyond.

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