Much of Innistrad is in the thrall of madness. Pauper — not so much. The Madness mechanic is tremendously powerful because it can turn a potential disadvantage into a tangible gain. Madness has yet to find a foothold in Pauper. The need for a strong enabler and the time needed to cast a spell for its Madness cost for an advantage makes it tough to find a home for these spells.
Pauper is currently an incredibly quick format. Establishing a game-plan by turn two is vitally important lest you fall behind. When looking at Madness, the cards absolutely must be cast for their reduced cost to be of any real use. Take Arrogant Wurm. At five mana, it is likely too slow to matter, so having it on turn three is ideal. To facilitate this, the early turns must be spent establishing a reliable outlet. Most of the time this is Wild Mongrel but sometimes Merfolk Looter or Putrid Imp tag in.
The issue in utilizing these spells to their fullest potential is having a free discard outlet early and often. Outside of Blue this will often require branching into a second color. Today’s preview card, however, gives one of the main Madness colors from Shadows over Innistrad another way to pitch cards for value.
Olivia’s Dragoon is an offensive card. The cards that came to mind first were Patrol Hound, Wild Mongrel, and Putrid Imp. Patrol Hound is another discard outlet from Odyssey but First Strike does not stack. As such this card would often get stopped by blockers making its main utility as a way to get cards out of one’s hand. Wild Mongrel is different as each discard translates to even more damage. Yet just like Patrol Hound it can be blocked. Putrid Imp is the smallest of the three but can grant itself evasion to punch through for one (or sometimes two) damage.
Olivia’s Dragoon is not going to win any efficiency awards. As a strict “Runeclaw Bear” with upside it is destined to be little more than an enabler. But that’s exactly what Madness decks in Pauper need. With access to Olivia’s Dragoon, Black decks can now access a free discard outlet on turns one and two. Paired with Putrid Imp, the new Vampire Berserker will provide players seeking to tap into unhinged minds a great way to apply pressure while also turning on the rest of their deck.
In fact, Mono-Black may be the way to go for Madness decks moving forward. The best “payoff” thus far has been Basking Rootwalla. Cards with pedigrees in other formats like Circular Logic and Arrogant Wurm have yet to find solid footing. Fiery Temper is a fantastic spell, but with access to Lightning Bolt, Pauper can do better.
Black’s suite of Madness spells is strong. Between Torment, Time Spiral block, and Shadows over Innistrad, Black has had the most opportunities to have these cards in the common slot. If Olivia’s Dragoon is any indication, Eldritch Moon should provide some more fuel for this fire. But which spells should we pair with the newcomer?
Putrid Imp is an obvious choice as it provides another discard outlet. Trespasser il-Vec is another evasive enabler that deserves a look. Vampire Hounds may earn a slot or two, but that depends on the quality of creatures that can be discarded for value. The last potential engine piece that deserves consideration is Undertaker. Unlike its brethren, there is a mana cost associated with this outlet. Undertaker has the downside of not being a strong threat on its own, but it can discard anything, not just creatures, to fuel its Raise Dead power. The ability to pitch anything gives it the nod over the more limited Tortured Existence.
What about the fodder? Dark Withering is either the worst Terror ever or a spell that you gleefully point at opposing creatures. For a single Black and a discard outlet, Withering can clear the path of anything not powered by death. More recently, Murderous Compulsion fills a similar role with the added benefit of being able to kill a Gurmag Angler. Ichor Slick is a sweet spell that replaces itself when cycled but is likely too expensive to matter in competitive Pauper.
Call to the Netherworld and Grave Scrabbler are both exciting. The former is a free Raise Dead as long as you are going after black creatures. The Gravedigger variant, on the other hand, can chain together nicely, leaving you with an army of 2/2s that could rather easily come back and keep the party going. Twins of Maurer Estate and Gorgon Recluse are decent bodies that survive Lightning Bolt and have that magical Madness ability.
What about other cards that play nice? Raven's Crime can be cast from the graveyard while supplementing a discard package. Syphon Life also has Retrace but is far more expensive. Dregscape Zombie, Viscera Dragger, and Rotting Rats all don’t mind being pitched while Rotting Rats also doubles as a Madness enabler. Ghoulcaller's Accomplice can turn itself into a token while Undead Servant just wants other dead friends. Finally, we would be remiss to ignore Gurmag Angler as the end all and be all of graveyard fueled threats in Pauper.
Putting it all together, a Madness deck moving forward may look something like this:
Mono-Black Madness ? Pauper | Alex Ullman
- Creatures (30)
- 1 Undertaker
- 2 Gurmag Angler
- 2 Vampire Hounds
- 2 Viscera Dragger
- 3 Dregscape Zombie
- 3 Grave Scrabbler
- 3 Rotting Rats
- 3 Trespasser il-Vec
- 3 Twins of Maurer Estate
- 4 Olivia's Dragoon
- 4 Putrid Imp
Of course this is only working with known quantities. With the advent of every two color pair in draft having some sort of cohesive theme, Black is likely to continue to have access to new graveyard based tools at common on a regular basis. The fact that Delirium and Madness will continue in the color for Eldritch Moon means Pauper is edging ever closer to having a deck based around the mechanic.
Let’s not forget there’s the all important Tribal element as well. Pauper does not have a long history of Vampires, but as a characteristic race they are sure to show up again and again. If any of these cards show up with a Black expansion symbol, you can be sure I’ll bust out my copies of Vampire Lacerator, Pulse Tracker, and Guul Draz Vampire to start pressuring life totals early and often.
And maybe Dark Withering will make an appearance again.