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I Need a Hero


Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
Last week, in my Iconic Masters Challenge wrap up, I talked about the emergence of Heroic as a deck in Pauper. When I took the deck out for a spin, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed piloting the deck. While on the surface it looks like a Hexproof deck without the eponymous keyword, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. The original builds of Heroic could burst through for damage with Ethereal Armor and Double Cleave, but their strength came less from their ability to deal damage and more from the ability to shut down the opponent's answers.

The earliest builds of Heroic were straightforward. They leaned heavily on Cho-Manno's Blessing, an Aura with Flash from Mercadian Masques, for interaction. The Blessing could act as an Intervene while also letting your creature push through for damage. It could also be used on the other side of the table, targeting a Kiln Fiend, Nivix Cyclops, or Tireless Tribe and turn off the key spell that would let them crunch through for lethal damage. This is a neat trick and one that can absolutely matter when the metagame is saturated with Gush combo decks.

The key creature in Heroic is Lagonna-Band Trailblazer. While a 0/4 creatures is far from impressive on its own, it matches up well against heavily played removal. The Trailblazer can shrug off Lightning Bolt and early copies of Skred, and, with any help, it can survive a Galvanic Blast. Red removal is at an apex right now and the ability to ignore it on turn one is a huge advantage. Putting an Ethereal Armor on the Centaur gives you a threat that is unlikely to die in combat and can end the game in short order.

These cards have existed in concert for years, yet Heroic has only just now how a breakthrough. The answer lies in Iconic Masters and Seeker of the Way. Pauper has access to a few creatures with Heroic that get +1/+1 counters, but only three of them are in White. Seeker of the Way provides another way to get bonuses from the invested spells while also giving the deck a life buffer. While Heroic can be explosive, it is not a deck that can apply consistent pressure starting on turn one (like Stompy). In aggro mirror matches, it gives up some ground early, but Seeker of the Way makes it so that the deck can claw its way back in the midgame. The advent of the Prowess beater pushed this deck from the fringes of being competitive to one that has put up multiple 5-0s and a Top 8 finish in a challenge.

Gods Willing
After playing the deck for some time, Cho-Manno's Blessing looked less and less impressive. A powerful effect to be sure, the need to leave up two mana was hindering the deck's ability to apply as much pressure as was wanted. Using it offensively, that is to push through damage, was great; but, even then, it still demanded that lines of play be warped around a two mana spell that did not directly affect the board. It was not that Blessing was bad, but instead the cost prevented the deck from developing a board position due to the high cost.

There are plenty of options available to take the place of Cho-Manno's Blessing. Emerge Unscathed was already in the deck, but Gods Willing presented an intriguing option. Not only was it half the cost of Cho-Manno's Blessing but it also has Scry 1. Heroic is not running Blue, and as such lacks the powerful library manipulation open to decks running Islands. Gods Willing gives the deck some control over draws while replicating the protection provided by Cho-Manno's Blessing, if only for a turn.

The addition of Gods Willing proved beneficial. The discount on cost made it easier to deploy more threats and protect them in the same turn. Casting it during the upkeep to set up for an attack while also curating the draw step gave the deck a much needed boost in the card quality department. Simply put, the Scry on Gods Willing made it easier for Heroic to find the spells it needed to win the game.

One spell that was no longer impressive was Ethereal Armor. Without Cho-Manno's Blessing, there were not enough enchantments left in the deck to power it up. Unlike Hyena Umbra and Cartouche of Solidarity, Armor has no other utility other than enhancing combat stats. The other two help the enchanted creature resist removal -- Hyena Umbra eats traditional removal spells while Cartouche of Solidarity negates Chainer's Edict -- but Ethereal Armor is nothing more than power and toughness.

Without Ethereal Armor and Cho-Manno's Blessing, the deck changed dramatically. It was no longer focused on quick bursts of damage -- Double Cleave also found itself on the cutting room floor -- and instead the emphasis on instants made it easier for Heroic to build up multiple threats instead of just one. The shift to investing in more than one threat made it easier for Heroic to attack and block around the opponent's board instead of always trying to go through it.

Before going much further I want to talk about the way I approached Heroic. I felt the original builds, while powerful, left a lot to be desired. It may have been the matches I had during testing, where I faced plenty of decks with Journey to Nowhere, that made me question Cho-Manno's Blessing. Needing to name White only for it to ruin the investment of previous spells was something that could set back my development needlessly. So I went back to the drawing board and looked at Tom Ross decks from Theros era Standard. Ross has a penchant for playing creature based decks that are not strictly turn-your-beaters-sideways. When I looked at his decks, I saw the emphasis on being able to manipulate draws. While the mana in Pauper does not easily allow for a splash in this deck, it did encourage me to push more toward Gods Willing and Defiant Strike.

Seeker of the Way
Pauper Heroic wanted to see more cards and it wanted more creatures. The 14 from the Challenge Top 8 was frighteningly low and the 16 in the league 5-0 is better, but, in my opinion, was still too low. Unlike Standard Heroic, there are fewer ways to get fresh looks. Because of this there is a good chance you have to ride what you draw naturally to victory and missing a creature could prove fatal.

Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Akroan Skyguard were must includes. After that, four copies of Seeker of the Way followed. I liked the technology the folks in the Pauper Discord had come up with in Deftblade Elite. The Provoke mechanic made it so either Hyena Umbra or Cartouche of Strength turns the Soldier into an assassin. Two toughness is the baseline in Pauper, and the ability to pick off blockers at will was too good to pass up.

From there, I rounded the 1-drops out with a copy of Hopeful Eidolon. The Bestow creature was included as another threat for the first turn and a mana sink late. Heroic would often have a surplus of mana in the late game, and Bestow gave the deck someplace to put it. I added a few copies of Wingsteed Rider and, while I was impressed, I found I rarely wanted to make them the focus of my attack. I settled on a single copy as it could come down be a huge threat early; but, seeing too many in the opening seven was as good as a mulligan.

I kept looking for another creature that could have an impact on combat. After cutting Cho-Manno's Blessing, I found it harder to push through damage. Searching for tap effects, I was about to run some copies of Kor Hookmaster when I saw it -- a 2/3 Dinosaur that had been the bane of more drafters than I can remember. I added two copies of Territorial Hammerskull and was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the dino enable me to attack through what would otherwise be a board stall, the 2/3 body mattered when it was blocked.

I kept the four copies of Hyena Umbra and Cartouche of Solidarity. I went up to the full four copies of both Gods Willing and Emerge Unscathed. After that I ran three copies of Defiant Strike. While the draw is good, the effect outside of that is minimal and I wanted other options. Three copies of Mutagenic Growth gave me a free way to bolster my force, but running the fourth is too risky in a format as aggressive as Pauper. I added a copy of Artful Maneuver after seeing a Japanese Pauper Prowess deck running the card. I liked the idea of getting two potential triggers on two consecutive attacks so I tried it out.

I took this build into the Pauper League and it performed much better than I expected. While my first outing was a 3-2 finish, it wasn't long before I spiked a 5-0 with this list.

The card I was happiest to find was Blinding Souleater. I wanted a way to tap down opposing threats to prevent them from crashing in. Expecting plenty of Heroic, I needed a way to tap down attackers that were protected from White. The Souleater also can put in work against Izzet Blitz (if they don't find an Apostle's Blessing) or Tribe Combo, and I never had to leave mana open to threaten the tap.

There were some underperformers, however. Hopeful Eidolon was fine, but I rarely got to use the four-mana mode. Similarly, I liked Artful Maneuver, but the second mana made it hard to use effectively. Moving away from the Auras and adding creatures build meant I was committing more mana on my turn and, therefore, I had to put a higher premium on one mana spells.

I made some tweaks. I took out Hopeful Eidolon and replaced it with Nyxborn Shieldmate. This kept a one mana creature in the deck but the three mana Bestow cost was far easier to achieve than the four mana of Eidolon. Second, I replaced Artful Maneuver with Ajani's Presence. Presence acted as another protection effect that could hit two creatures in a flood situation. After a 3-2 run with the updated version I took it to a second 5-0 finish.

Heroic, in this mode, plays more like a Fish deck than a go-tall aggressive strategy. While you will have to commit the Auras on your own turn, every instant can be used as a counterspell that not only defends your creatures but can actively make them better. The deck has a lot of areas to gain small edges, such as knowing when to cast Emerge Unscathed during the end step to get two triggers or knowing when to burn a Gods Willing on your upkeep to dig for additional action. There is no hard and fast rule for knowing when to take these lines, but understanding when is key to succeeding with the deck.

Unlike the Aura build, you do not want to cast all your spells as soon as you draw them. Without a card like Ordeal of Thassa, you best avenue to gaining card advantage is through combat. Sometimes attacking is obvious, like when you have a creature with First Strike and they have no good blocks, or when you have a flyer and they don't. Most of the time, you have to weigh whether the attack will help you win the game in the long run, and I'm not talking about damage. Often you will attack with the intent of getting blocked with tricks in hand in order to clear the board for later assaults. Then there are the times where you cannot attack and instead have to turn your spells to defense. In these instances, you can craft a hand that has enough spells to ruin most attacks.

Heroic is an oddity. It is a powerful option that has had access to the vast majority of its cards for quite some time but put up almost no results. In Pauper, decks tend to crop up from time to time before sticking, but that did not happen in this case. But I do not believe it is a flash in the pan. It will be far easier to print new good White instants than cards to supplant Preordain and Ponder, which means Heroic will be able to add new cards as an increased rate.

And besides, who doesn't like attacking and blocking?

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