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The Green Machine

Blue is the best. This refrain is a common one as it relates to non-rotating formats. Once you take a look at the entire history of Magic it starts to make sense. Blue started out strong and Wizards has spent most of the last two decades trying to course correct. While the other colors are busy playing tortoise, Blue continues to act the hare and has yet to taken its requisite rest. Though, because of this disparity in power, the current lay of the land in Pauper is all the more interesting.

If you follow my metagame breakdowns, you may have noticed a trend. While Izzet Delver has combined strong Blue and Red cards to great results, the deck pales in comparison to, of all things, a Mono-Green beatdown deck: Stompy.

Stompy has been a staple of Pauper for many years due to its abundance of cost efficient threats combined with burst damage capability of pump spells. Its ability play around Spellstutter Sprite and commit threats to the battlefield has long given it game against Delver of Secrets variants. Over the history of the format, the deck has ebbed and flowed in popularity due to the relevance of different removal based decks. Nevertheless, Stompy has been a near constant presence and currently represents both the apex of the format as well as one of its most consistent clocks.

Even though Stompy has many of the same cards today as it did when Pauper it plays out rather different. It is a rare deck that has managed to shift its role in the metagame due to the nature of the field surrounding the card. Despite its tendency to apply pressure, today, Stompy started its competitive life as a Fish deck. Even though it has always been Green, the original versions played much closer to aggro-control than to a pure low curve beatdown strategy.

The Green creatures that enabled Stompy have long been available, but the deck didn’t take off until the release of Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana . The Duel Deck gave Pauper access to Yavimaya Elder, Serrated Arrows, Snuff Out, and, perhaps most importantly, Rancor. Rancor made it so the undercosted creatures would no longer be outclassed in the middle stages of the game. With the advent of Rancor, pump spells like Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood no longer had to find an unblocked creature in order to deal additional damage during combat phases.

Vines of Vastwood
Much like Goblins in the earliest days of Pauper, Stompy was an important deck in combating Mono-Black Control thanks to Vines of Vastwood. Whereas Goblins could sacrifice an on-tribe creature to Goblin Sledder to turn off Tendrils of Corruption, Stompy could spend a single Green mana and save a valuable threat. At the same time, Goblins had access to Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning which meant Stompy, even though it had superior creatures, lacked the reach necessary to be the fastest deck in Pauper. Instead it took on the role I had alluded to previously: Fish.

As a Fish deck, Stompy wanted to deploy cheap threats and protect them with cards like Vines of Vastwood. A single card was not enough and Gather Courage took on the role of negating the efficacy of Lightning Bolt. In conjunction with Nettle Sentinel and Quirion Ranger, the Convoke cost on Gather Courage was often no cost at all. This made it easier for Stompy to spend mana on threats without having to worry about leaving up mana for defense. In many ways, Gather Courage was a Green Daze.

These decks were not as adept at going wide as today’s build and had to rely on another way to force through the final points of damage. Shinen of Life's Roar helped fill this role. Cast or channeled in the late game, the Shinen would open up the battlefield and allow for lethal alpha strikes. It also had a ”secret” mode where it acted as a pastiche removal spell. Using Quirion Ranger to untap opposing creatures, the Shinen could pick off offending creatures one by one with sideboard copies of Shield of the Oversoul or en masse with a Groundswell.

One of the earliest adopters and innovators of Stompy was Deluxeicoff. The long time Pauper content creator might be better known for his video content these days, but used to write information dense articles as well. Here is a list he ran in 2011, and while some choices — Rogue Elephant — were not standard, it remains largely emblematic of the archetype in that era.

Nest Invader
In the intervening years, Stompy rotated its supplemental creatures. River Boa and Mire Boa proved to be valuable in certain metagames as evasive threats that survived commonly played removal. Nest Invader put two bodies onto the battlefield and started being a regular inclusion as a way to combat Chainer's Edict once the staple of Mono-Black Control became a legal option. Garruk's Companion saw some play as way to make Bonesplitter better, but eventually fell by the wayside as other creatures grew in popularity. The only creature to become a true staple in the intervening years has been Young Wolf. The Undying 1-drop allows Stompy to commit a threat to the board early with almost no fear of falling behind to removal.

The pump suite evolved as well. Mutagenic Growth became a regular inclusion as an additional free trick. Currently Groundswell is on the downswing while Hunger of the Howlpack is almost mandatory. Between creatures dying in combat and the ability to sacrifice an Eldrazi Spawn at your leisure, the Morbid ability is almost always on. Because of this Hunger of the Howlpack acts as many of us played Giant Growth back in the day — a permanent +3/+3 bonus.

The advent of Hunger of the Howlpack allowed Stompy to stop playing the Fish game and turned it into a true Sligh style deck. While the archetype always adhered to a mana curve, its ability to defend its creatures with mock counterspells set it apart from other beatdown strategies. Hunger, and to a lesser extent Young Wolf, changed that. Now the deck had a built in resilience to removal and could focus less on the protection racket. At the same time, removal became actively worse against Stompy as any Lightning Bolt aimed a 2/2 could result in another one becoming a 5/5.

The next major revelation came just this past year with Modern Masters 2017. Burning-Tree Emissary took a deck that was already strong and pushed it into overdrive. Whereas before Stompy could present three threats by turn three, putting opponents on the back foot, the possibility of Burning-Tree Emissary chains makes it likely to see four or more threats by the end of the second turn. Leading on Young Wolf or Nettle Sentinel, it is likely to see Stompy present a Burning-Tree on turn two and follow that up with a Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and a Vault Skirge. Pauper is still learning how to adapt to these openings with cheap removal, but make no mistake, Stompy has asserted itself at the top of the heap.

Recently some pilots have taken this to another level and have opted to move back to Silhana Ledgewalker. Ledgewalker is an evasive body that is incredibly hard to remove if it is wearing three Howlpack tokens. The Ledgewalker decks have also added Elephant Guide. A downshift in Vintage Masters, the Guide lets Stompy present more robust threats that continue to make trades problematic.

Burning-Tree Emissary
Stompy remains a versatile aggressive choice. Like many top Pauper decks, it has the capability of racking up free wins on the back of Burning-Tree Emissary and Rancor. The deck has a solid core of creatures that can should not be changed without good reason. Stompy should run no fewer than 16 Forests and 17 seems to be the correct upper limit. At various points in Pauper’s history, people have taken to cutting lands and replacing them with copies of Land Grant. To me this is not a wise move, as Stompy, despite its resilience, needs to play on the unknown potential of what pump spells are actually in your hand in order be most effective. Giving away that information, even if it means “thinning” out the deck, is a massive risk.

Quirion Ranger is a powerful 1-drop that allows Stompy to operate on land light draws. While it is moderately better when fueling Groundswell and making creatures block Shinen, it is still a strong option for enabling Burning-Tree Emissary. It also shines with various sideboard options such as Viridian Longbow and Scattershot Archer. Four copies is a must.

Nettle Sentinel and Young Wolf are also automatic four-ofs due to their rate and the pressure they apply. Both carry a Rancor exceptionally well and can create a nightmare opening if left alone. Similarly a playset Burning-Tree Emissary is required as it leads to too many free wins.

Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, despite not having the pedigree of the other cards, might be the best creature in the deck. The ability to get around most creatures in Pauper makes it a must kill. With active Bloodthirst and a Rancor only Gurmag Angler exists as a commonly played creature that can block it naturally. When combined with Hunger of the Howlpack, an unanswered Pit-Skulk can end the game in short order. Yet, even killing it means that the other creatures on the board can swarm around whatever defenses exist.

On the creature enhancement side, four copies of Rancor is key. Not only is it hard to remove, it provides a recurring source of evasive damage and turns every creature into a real threat. I would not be caught running Stompy without at least three copies of Vines of Vastwood these days and most likely want the full four. It has amazing defensive applications but it can just as easily go on offense and help to assail a life total. As for Hunger of the Howlpack, I could see going as low as two in builds where you are less likely to have creatures lying around ready to pop.

Defending against Stompy is key to succeeding in Pauper these days. There are a few different ways the format has reacted, but none have managed to keep the Green Machine down. First you can go the route of Boros Monarch and other decks and overload on cheap Red removal. Being able to cast both Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast early against a board that is four creatures wide can help contain the menace. Boros Monarch has also adopted another measure in Prismatic Strands. Strands and Moment's Peace help to buy the time needed for decks to establish their own winning position in the face of the verdant assault. It is not uncommon these days to see a Tron deck packing three copies of the Flashback Fog main just to survive.

Some decks are trying to subvert Stompy by making their angle of attack obsolete. Izzet Blitz and Tribe Combo are alive as long as they are not dead as they only need one turn to win the game. Rally Gond can flood the board and runs enough life gain creatures like Soul Warden to completely turn off Stompy’s attacks. Finally, ub decks are able to run either Zombie Outlander or Vodalian Zombie to hold the ground until a combination of Chainer's Edict and Evincar's Justice can take out their army.

Of course all of these only matter if Stompy hasn’t killed you already. Whereas new entries into the format had to answer the “how do you handle Delver” question the past few months have shifted the subject from Delver decks to Stompy. So, how are you planning to deal with the current king of the jungle?

The Hour of Devastation is upon us! Gets singles and sealed at!