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Mad About Rancor

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The post-Amonkhet Pauper metagame is starting to take shape. Coming off the heels of Moderns Masters 2017, it is no surprise to see Stompy near the top of the standings. While the latest set has not given anything new to the deck, it still boasts one of the more consistent aggressive lines thanks to Burning-Tree Emissary. The ascension of Stompy has shifted the overall tempo of Pauper toward the early game and, subsequently, cheap removal. One of the best ways to mitigate a draw of Nettle Sentinel into Burning-Tree Emissary is with cards like Disfigure and Lightning Bolt. Against Stompy, these decks tend to not lose their efficacy as the game progresses as, outside of Hunger of the Howlpack, Stompy’s creatures remain relatively small.


Rancor
Now, sometimes it does matter. Stompy can simply assemble a good enough draw with Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, pump spells, and Rancor to end the game in spite of multiple threats hitting the bin. This is a testament to the power of Rancor. One of early Wizards’ mistakes — the story goes that it should have cost 1g instead of a single Green — Rancor turns any creature into a formidable threat. Since creatures in Pauper tend to congregate around 2/2, (with some exceptions) a Rancor not only means winning most combats but it also opens up the opportunity for dealing more damage thanks to Groundswell or Vines of Vastwood. Remember Skarrgan Pit-Skulk? Putting a Rancor on one makes blocking the creature almost impossible. Unless you can kill a creature with Rancor on the stack there’s a very good chance you are going to be dealing with the same Aura over and over again.

There are cards that can exile Rancor for good including Erase, Revoke Existence, and newcomer Forsake the Worldly. None of these are strong enough to see a reasonable amount of play as they are all reactive cards. Oubliette has some merit as a way to take out Rancor and the horse it rode in on — especially good against the horse that is Young Wolf — and fueling Devotion for Gray Merchant of Asphodel. As good as that is, Oubliette is slow and, as discussed last week, Black removal is only so good alone. If your plan is to survive to turn five and resolve a Gray Merchant to try and win, there is a good chance you may be too low on life for the drain to matter.

So, the best way to handle a Rancor remains taking out its target. Thus, we return to instant speed removal. Yes, the Stompy player may have a Vines of Vastwood to protect from the Lightning Bolt, but that is a risk you have to be willing to take. The worst case scenario in that sequence is you saving a turn of damage thanks to Stompy burning a pump spell.

But what happens when you can no longer target the intended resting place for Rancor? That is the question Hexproof is looking to answer.

Hexproof is not a new deck. The combination of Slippery Bogle, Gladecover Scout, and Rancor is strong enough to make headway in Modern and a similar strategy is viable in Pauper. The deck does lose some staying power without Kor Spiritdancer, but Hexproof tries to make up for that by being able to commit a quick clock to the table.


Cartouche of Solidarity
In the past, Hexproof has struggled in the face of Chainer's Edict style removal. In concert with Crypt Rats, Black decks could help to contain the non-Aura wearing creatures and leave Edict up to handle the one threat that went tall. For the past several years, Hexproof pilots have taken different measures to combat this line including sideboard copies of Young Wolf and Fists of Ironwood while also running some number of Khalni Garden main. The addition of Amonkhet has changed this. Now the deck has access to Cartouche of Solidarity to not only play along its primary axis in Game 1 but also to fight against the hate. The fact that Cartouche also makes its target stronger in combat — First Strike is a vastly underrated ability in a format as combat centered as Pauper — and enhances Hexproof’s haymakers, Ethereal Armor and Ancestral Mask, makes the new Aura a no-brainer inclusion.

A common opening for Hexproof is to stick a creature turn one and then follow it up with a second Forest into Utopia Sprawl and then Ethereal Armor and Rancor or a second Enchant Land. If the next turn includes another Aura or threat, the opponent can be hard pressed to recover. While Ethereal Armor is the force multiplier, it is Rancor that helps the deck punch through damage.

Hexproof is still vulnerable to Edict style removal and Black control decks. The good news for Hexproof is that due to Stompy’s relevance these decks are at a nadir. Their removal lines up poorly and this creates an environment where Bogles can thrive. As Black control decks have an uphill climb toward viability, it appears as if Hexproof is going to be a stronger presence for the foreseeable future.

Standard Bearer
Rancor is an incredibly powerful card to begin with and it currently may be the best card in Pauper. Not only does it headline two of the better decks in the format, it represents a threat that is incredibly difficult to remove. Rancor is nigh impossible to attack directly, so it makes more sense to go after the surrounding cards. Here are some cards whose stock will rise as a way to fight Rancor decks.

The first is Standard Bearer. A known quantity, the Bearer has to be dealt with before any pump spells or (almost any) Auras can be resolved. The wrinkles in this fabric are the new Cartouches which explicitly state “enchant creature you control.” While this is not a big deal for Cartouche of Solidarity it means that Cartouche of Strength becomes a high impact sideboard card. While Epic Confrontation and Gut Shot were regular inclusions in the sideboards of both Stompy and Hexproof, Cartouche of Strength gives both of these decks an answer that comes with a permanent power buff. I don’t expect Standard Bearer to stop seeing play, nor do I expect Coalition Honor Guard to get the call, but the Bearer is going to be less effective moving forward.

Electrickery has some merit as a way to snipe Hexproof creatures thanks to Overload. The issue of course is if it is drawn after a toughness buff has hit, then it is largely useless. Still, it can double up with Chainer's Edict or Diabolic Edict. Blazing Volley may be better suited to the role of being paired with a forced sacrifice effect but lacks the versatility to remove a Rancor from the stack. Similar effects include Cower in Fear, Wail of the Nim, and the Nausea/Shrivel tag team.

Celestial Flare
Celestial Flare and Curfew are similar to Edicts in that they are very good at hitting exactly one creature. Celestial Flare is slightly better as it forces a sacrifice but once your opponent sees the trick they are likely to play around it moving forward. Curfew suffers similarly at the hands of Cartouche of Solidarity but has the advantage of being able to negate that spell if cast on the lone creature on the battlefield.

Prismatic Strands is an interesting option. The ability to turn off your opponent’s source of damage for two turns while also ensuring your blocks will deal damage is valuable. When paired with a Deathtouch creature, a well timed Strands will let you take out whatever creature they have that happens to be wearing multiple pairs of pants (read Auras). This, of course, requires having creatures available to block and ones that stand a chance of killing a massive threat.

The last card I want to talk about today is Leave no Trace. While this will not handle a Rancor permanently, it can wreck a combat. Thanks to Radiance, this instant can take out multiple turns of investment for the low low price of two mana. The goal, of course, is to hit Armadillo Cloak mid swing to make sure that everything goes to the graveyard, even temporarily. Leave no Trace is also at its best when you can block but has the advantage of being a massively swingy play that can turn the tide of a game.

Rancor is a beast of a Magic card. As discussed today, it creates a hard to answer threat; and, when combined with other force multipliers, the Aura ends games. The good news is there are plenty of potential answers. While no one set of these will be enough to contain the threat, working together in the metagame they may hold Rancor back from utter domination.


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