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Tales from the Fringe


The upper echelons of Pauper are well established at this point. When you say Drake, Affinity, Delver, or Stompy, people tend to have a clear idea of the deck in questions (if, of course, they are familiar with the format). Even the next tier has name recognition — Elves, Dimir Delver, Izzet Blitz, Burb, Hexproof - heck, even also rans like Jeskai and Mono-Black Control are known quantities.

But what about the other decks. Not every deck that goes 5-0 in a league is one of these. Some only hit the undefeated bracket once while others make a few appearances before retreating to the realm of the loss column. I thought today it might be fun to look at some of the decks that have spiked a league run or two since the arrival of Drake in order to see what might be looming underneath the surface.

Infect has a history in Pauper. Back when Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens were legal, so too was Invigorate. When the Storm spouts got banned Invigorate went along for the ride. The change was for the best as Infect was capable of a turn two kill with Lotus Petal. Combined with cheap disruption like Dispel, Apostle's Blessing, or Vines of Vastwood, and Infect was primed to become an absolute menace.

In the intervening years the deck has popped up from time to time. Let’s be real — having your opponent start with half their life is a huge advantage. There are merits to each of these builds. The Mono-Green version has some nice tricks, like Ichorclaw Myr and Predator's Strike to deal even more damage. It only has one Apostle's Blessing, instead relying on trample to punch through. The U/G version, on the other hand, has the full four Blessings and four Distortion Strike on top of that. Add Blighted Agent to the mix and you have a build that can completely circumvent the normal rules of combat. Of course there is a price — the two color mana base.

All this being said if I were going to poison my enemies I would almost certainly try the two color version. The ability to bring in cards like Dispel and Spell Pierce is very enticing. Add to this the potential for Daze and library manipulation and we can start to see the benefits of going Green and Blue.

The shortcomings are the creatures. Infect needs its creatures to operate removal is a constant presence. Right now cards like Lightning Bolt are far better than Chainer's Edict so it should be feasible to stick a sick creature and protect it for the short time needed to deal ten.

Simic Threshold is one of those decks everyone was talking about when Eternal Masters hit the scene. Nimble Mongoose has a pedigree and the Pauper community was excited to get their hands on the 1-drop. It just so happened that the Mongoose appeared in the same set as Peregrine Drake and the hype quickly died down. Some intrepid players have continued to work with the Mongoose and so far there have been a handful of Simic Threshold wins.

Threshold has access to Mongoose and Delver of Secrets, meaning that no matter what you stick on turn one it is going to do some damage. The rest of the deck is a fairly standard aggro-control shell with Werebear acting as the top end. The goal is to stick a threat and ride it to victory so Counterspell and Rune Snag have a heavy load to bear. Vapor Snag plays nicely on offense and the deck just has the look of something that can succeed.

What’s holding this one back? Gurmag Angler. Dimir Delver operates along a very similar axis except it is far less vulnerable to Bojuka Bog. Black also offers removal like Ghastly Demise and Agony Warp while Gurmag Angler outclasses Werebear and Nimble Mongoose. Threshold also suffers from Drake being popular. When your primary mode of interaction is an Unsummon Variant, do you really want to be spending that on a creature that can generate mana when it hits the battlefield?

I thought not.

What happens when you swap Delver of Secrets for Cloudfin Raptor? You end up with something like this. Blue Zoo has been around for a while but has long dwelled in the shadow of its dominant cousin.

Where Delver wants to resolve a threat and ride it to victory Blue Zoo wants to keep the pressure on in an entirely different way. Ideally it plays a Cloudfin Raptor on turn one and starts evolving it turn two. Faerie Miscreant into Ninja of the Deep Hours into Spire Golem can get your bird mutant up to a 3/4 with ease. Dream Stalker is an interesting card but it does the job by adding another point of power to the Raptor. The deck has few ways to interact, relying entirely on Daze, Snap, and Spellstutter Sprite — no Counterspell here.

Blue Zoo makes major concessions in order to run Cloudfin Raptor. The stark reality is that Delver just runs better cards. There is no shame in running Fathom Seer or Sea Gate Oracle, but Dream Stalker in your aggressive deck is a bit odd. I would see if I could find a home Eldrazi Skyspawner since on its own it can grow a Raptor to a 2/3 by stacking the triggers so the Spawn evolve resolves first. Makeshift Mauler also has merit as a creature that can win fights. If I were to run Makeshift Mauler I would try to find home for Flayer Husk to make it large enough to tussle with a Gurmag Angler.

The other option is to keep the Dream Stalker and make space for Krovikan Mist. The Mist can get quite large when paired with other Illusions like Phantasmal Bear, Illusionary Servant, and Fathom Seer. The problem with this strategy is that many of its key creatures are extra vulnerable to removal — ever lose a Phantasmal Bear to a Timberwatch Elf? It isn’t pretty.

All told Blue Zoo represents another feasible option if you want to run Islands. But Delver of Secrets has a reputation that it has earned and right now I do not see a compelling reason to abandon the establishment.

Grixis Metalcraft is a midrange players dream. The deck wants to resolve an endless stream of value creatures and clear the path with some of the best available removal spells. Being able to run Galvanic Blast and Thoughtcast alongside Chainer's Edict means that your deck is not wanting in the power department. Most versions run Archaeomancer and Ghostly Flicker (in a relatively fair shell) and use Bleak Coven Vampires as a way to close out the game. The above version also has Reaping the Graves as a way to reload in the really late game.

Grixis decks have access to a wide array of potential cards. Terminate and Soul Manipulation are both high impact cards while Gurmag Angler still exists. Morgue Burst is another late game card, one for which I feel an unreasonable affection, but that combos quite nicely with Angler. This is to say nothing of cards like Duress, Blightning, and Consult the Necrosages.

Grixis Metalcraft has one of the best late games available to Pauper. The problem is getting there. Currently in order to make the late game a deck needs to outlast Peregrine Drake and that is a difficult task. In the absence of Drake the deck still suffers from its fragile mana base — relying on Artifact Lands to fuel key cards leaves the deck susceptible to Gorilla Shaman.

If you are a regular reader you know that I had a lot of success with mono-white before the advent of Peregrine Drake. I felt the deck was poorly positioned against the combo and have since put it on the back burner but it is nice to see someone else picking up the flag. This version lowers the land count and ups the number of 1-drops. With access to Mana Tithe and Sunlance this version appears to want to win before a defense can be established.

Despite how sweet this deck looks I cannot help but feel that its success was a fluke. The deck is highly vulnerable to Electrickery and I cannot imagine how it gets around Drake combo. It looks more like a bad Stompy deck only that instead of pump spells and Rancor it has Journey to Nowhere and Bonesplitter.

Cheating an Ulamog's Crusher into play is fun. A lot of players try to do this with the UrzaTron but Exhume is faster and has some benefits — like having an 8/8 on the second turn. Most versions of the deck before Shadows over Innistrad leaned on Blue and cards like Careful Study and Hapless Researcher. Insolent Neonate gave the strategy a powerful 1-drop and opened up other possibilities. Red opened the door for Faithless Looting. Tormenting Voice makes sense when you want to get a card out of your hand. Lightning Axe is another way to pitch a stranded card but the thing that excites me most about this deck is Sandstone Needle and Manamorphose. Together these cards lets you cast just about everything in the deck as early as turn two. That is exciting. Shred Memory is a well positioned card that can neuter Drake decks while also finding an Exhume.

Reanimator is a strong strategy when you want to win by turn four. It can apply significant pressure to unprepared opponents and has the upside of absolutely wrecking most Peregrine Drake decks. The downside is that when Chainer's Edict is popular the deck just cannot get going. Mono-Black Control is a nightmare matchup and there are not nearly enough Crusher’s available to overwhelm a chain of kill spells. It is possible that cards like Last Rites and Mournwhelk could help the cause. I hope so because this deck looks really sweet.

These decks all have had a modicum of recorded success. It is quite possible that these strategies are populating the winner’s bracket but not going undefeated. Despite Drake’s reign there is still depth to Pauper and maybe one of these builds holds the key to overthrowing the current monarch.

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