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Shadows over Innistrad is coming. As someone who loves playing decks with graveyard interactions, this bodes better for me than it does the denizens of the plane. Our first trip to Innistrad reintroduced flashback. According to spoilers, our second trip is going to torment us with the return of madness. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Wild Mongrel
Back in the day when Pauper was just a player-supported community, I attempted to port G/U Madness to Pauper. Key cards (or cards I perceived as key), like Wild Mongrel, Werebear, Basking Rootwalla, and Deep Analysis were all available. Of course, this was before Terramorphic Expanse and Simic Guildgate. The deck was fun, but hardly competitive in that low-stakes environment.

But that was nearly ten years ago. In the interim, Coldsnap brought Rune Snag, and Time Spiral introduced Think Twice. Online Vintage Masters shifted Arrogant Wurm and Circular Logic to common. Could the time be right for Pauper to go mad?

Madness and similar strategies present an opportunity for tempo-based play. The goal is to produce large threats that can then be protected with defensive spells. Werebear and Arrogant Wurm are the old standards of such a game plan, but both Hooting Mandrills and Gurmag Angler fit the mold. Gathan Raiders serves as a discard outlet while also providing a sizeable body at the cost of being hellbent. Finally, Waterfront Bouncer combines keeping the board clear with a way to turn on madness. The tools exist, but what about the competition?

When we are talking about spitting out 4/4 monsters in Pauper, we need to examine the shiny and chrome standard that is Affinity. Myr Enforcer and Carapace Forger are both cheaper and more reliable than a Werebear or a Hooting Mandrills. Affinity can also run Galvanic Blast and the Atog-Fling kill giving it some serious reach. The problem is that Affinity relies on artifacts and Gorilla Shaman exists.

Arrogant Wurm
One only needs to look at the standings over the first six weeks of Pauper after Cloud of Faeries. Affinity was one of the best decks early, but as the metagame adjusted, it dropped off significantly. It is a common refrain—in Pauper, Affinity is at its best when no one is prepared. As players were adjusting to a world with a diminished Delver and an absent Esper Combo, Affinity was able to fill the power vacuum. But then the Mox Monkey and its friends Ancient Grudge and Gleeful Sabotage came to the party, and Affinity took a back seat to Tron and Delver. It is the nature of Affinity to cycle between a dominant force and something to be barely considered.

So why should we be running Arrogant Wurm over Myr Enforcer? It’s more resilient to sideboard hate. At its worst, Wurm is still a 4/4 creature for 5, whereas Myr Enforcer might be uncastable. You lose the multidimensional attack of the machine menace but gain additional flexibility in deck construction.

For the purposes of this experiment, we are going to be focusing on threshold, madness, flashback, and delve. These three mechanics all intersect in interesting ways and help to create a synergy-driven deck. White is the only color that is really missing out on the party, as its premier spells in this vein are Battle Screech and Cenn's Enlistment. These are strong cards but do not lend themselves to the any deck looking to present a huge threat.

The remaining four colors provide an abundance of options.

Circular Logic
Blue has the most traditional control elements. Rune Snag and Circular Logic both want a full graveyard and do good work taxing mana. Aether Burst can clear paths in multiples, and Rushing River can help to turn on both threshold and delve. Deep Analysis and Think Twice can provide new cards even from the bin.

For outlets, blue grants access to a wide variety of Merfolk Looters, including Looter il-Kor. The shadowy Kor has the advantage of being nigh unblockable, but its ability is a must, not a may. Waterfront Bouncer has a pedigree, but it may be too slow and awkward in a world populated by Chittering Rats and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Aquamoeba exists, but its day in the sun may have passed. Careful Study can lead to some strong sequences but needs cards with madness or flashback to be at its best.

Black has a bevy of options. The recent addition of Corpse Churn helps to turn on threshold and delve while also acting as a sort of Impulse for creatures. Using Churn to find a Gurmag Angler is not a bad play in the slightest.

On the discard side, black has Tortured Existence, but that is better suited for a long game. For the beatdown game, black can go to Vampire Hounds and Trespasser il-Vec. Putrid Imp is a solid 1-drop that enables graveyard shenanigans. Undertaker provides a bit of a long-game option and mimics Tortured Existence except that it can discard anything—not just creatures.

As for what to pitch, the sky is the limit. Dark Withering turns into a 1-mana Doom Blade. Grave Scrabbler acts as a Gravedigger when cast for its madness cost. Call to the Netherworld is cute but has the advantage of bringing back a Gurmag Angler. Stinkweed Imp keeps coming back while also filling the graveyard. Crippling Fatigue, Chainer's Edict, and Strangling Soot all can bring creatures to their levels, while Raven's Crime can do its job from the discard pile.

Lightning Axe
Red has some of the most aggressive options. Right out of the gates, there are Firebolt and Fiery Temper, which do great jobs at clearing a path. Lightning Axe is a card that looks fairly bad at first glance until you realize it can kill a Gurmag Angler while helping to cast another card. Faithless Looting is like Careful Study only better (while also somehow being worse by not being blue).

Beyond those two, red has few great outlets for discard. Gathan Raiders is nominally red, just like Eldrazi Displacer is sort of white. Mad Prophet is slow but has the advantage of being able to attack for 2.

Green has the best creatures in this department. Werebear, Wild Mongrel, Basking Rootwalla, and Arrogant Wurm do great jobs of pressuring a life total. Mongrel has the advantage of being a universal enabler while also dealing damage. Hooting Mandrills does a great Werebear impression but does not play well with those with bear arms. Similar to Stinkweed Imp, green has Golgari Brownscale to blunt assaults and Moldervine Cloak to deal extra damage. If we are going to go the aggressive route, it makes sense to try and beat down with Forests.

Here are three different takes on graveyard- and discard-fueled brews for Pauper. They have been through the early stages of testing and still have room for improvement.

Here, we abandon Werebear and threshold for delve in Hooting Mandrills. Because of this, we have abandoned both Rune Snag and Circular Logic. Careful Study helps us to some explosive starts and strong midgame plays. Vapor Snag helps to force through damage while Oona's Grace and Moldervine Cloak give the deck some staying power.

Attempting to resolve an early 4/4 or larger, the Golgari flavor of the deck is a madness–delve hybrid. Pulse of Murasa helps to offset the life-loss of Snuff Out and Putrid Leech. The addition of the Leech gives the deck a suitable replacement for Werebear’s 4/4 body while also providing a solid two-way threat.

We may be losing counters and Gurmag Angler, but we gain Blastoderm. In limited testing, Blastoderm has proved to be an excellent creature in the current metagame. It dodges most removal while pressuring health, and it must be blocked. With multiple ways to aim burn at the face while also filtering useless cards late, the Gruul edition of the deck may be the best suited to take on the current metagame.

There are options beyond these, of course, and with Shadows over Innistrad on the horizon, there is a hope for new cards to help fuel the madness. Until then, I hope you enjoy discarding for value as much as I do.

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