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Gushing Over Gush

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Gush
Ask most Pauper regulars to convince you to play the format and a number of familiar arguments pop up. Format diversity is near the top of the list, but one point of discourse rises above the rest. It’s the power point.

Pauper players absolutely love talking about how many powerful cards are legal in their format of choice. Want to play Affinity? Well you can run every Artifact Land. Like Blue cards? We have Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm. These tidbits are meant to entice. Come to the land of Commons, they say, we have punch and pie. We also have Gush.

Gush is one of those cards. It is a card with a curriculum vitae that can go toe-to-toe with spells such as Fireblast and Rancor. Unlike its brethren, it has an entire book dedicated to analyzing play patterns involving the card in Vintage. Pauper is no match for Vintage when it comes to card strength, but that does not detract from the unique power of Gush. Gush is a “free” draw two — something that no other color has. Yet it comes with a real cost — one that has to be paid in deck-building. Pauper lacks true dual lands and, as such, any deck that runs Gush has to run a requisite number of Islands in order to be all it can be.

First, the basics. Gush is an instant for 4u that draws two cards. It has an alternate mana cost of returning two Islands to your hand instead of paying the full five. Five mana-draw twos are commonplace in Pauper — just ask Mulldrifter — but they are rarely paid for with the retail price. Pauper decks tend to be land light and so the ability to be cast for the low low price of bouncing two of your Islands gives these builds the opportunity to reload on spells at a minimal cost.

Ash Barrens
In a similar vein, Gush allows you to reset land drops. Floating the mana and then returning the Islands can do a solid impression of generating an additional land drop. Now this isn’t Vintage and there is no engine with Fastbond so this comes at a real tempo cost to board development. Similar to how Stompy can filter land drops through Quirion Ranger, Gush allows Blue decks to eke a little more mana on the Gush turn.

Despite the fact it is an instant, it is best to treat Gush as a sorcery the vast majority of the time when using its alternate casting cost. The tempo cost of returning the lands and not being able to use the mana floated to help develop a board position. Being able to Gush into action is a huge advantage available to proactive Blue decks. There are times when you should Gush on your opponent’s turn, such as when you need to find an answer or when the lands no longer matter, but know that it could set you back significantly.

The multiple textures of Gush, when or where to cast it, give decks that run the card access to many lines of play. It also provides opportunity to find different synergistic elements. One of the recent innovations in Pauper is the engine of Gush, Brainstorm, and Ash Barrens. Provided enough mana, this lets the caster shuffle two lands back into the deck in exchange for three fresh cards. First, Gush is cast for its alternate cost and two lands are returned. One of these mana is used to cast Brainstorm and put the two lands back and the final one is used to cycle Ash Barrens which replaces a land and also gets rid of the cards topped with Brainstorm. I don’t say this often, but that sequence of play screams “such value.”

Gush makes demands of you. You ideally want at least ten Islands to make sure it can be cast reliably. In Pauper that means that a deck has to be Mono-Blue or nearly Mono-Blue. Without cards like Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea, and Volcanic Island, Gush requires the most basic of Island to work. Gush also asks that you run cheap spells. As the card sets back your board development, the ability to recover by using one or 2-mana spells after casting the instant for its alternative cost makes for the most efficient sequencing.

Because it is so powerful Gush can help to fuel multiple strategies. Currently it sees play in both aggro-control and combo decks.


Mono-Blue Delver may not be the force it once was. Held back by Stompy it remains a powerful options. Here Gush acts as a top end and a reload spell to supplement Ninja of the Deep Hours. Delver ideally sticks a threat early. Whether it is Delver of Secrets or Faerie Miscreant, the goal is to apply enough pressure while staying ahead with cards like Counterspell, Spellstutter Sprite, Vapor Snag, and Snap. In the midgame, Delver relies on Ninja to keep the cards flowing as its other options — Ponder and Preordain — are good at increasing card quality if not quantity.

Here Gush is straightforward. It gives Delver access to a true refuel in the mid and late game while also giving the deck an opportunity to reuse mana early. They key with Gush here is that it should never be used at a point where it will put too many cards into your hand. Often players will Gush from a position where they will need to hit a correct sequence as to not lose cards to hand size. It goes without saying that this should be avoided at all costs. Pauper is a format of margins and losing a card for no reason, even if it is a land, could prove fatal.


Brainstorm
Izzet Delver is the deck that pioneered the use of Brainstorm and Ash Barrens in conjunction with Gush. Even though the deck above cut Brainstorm it still makes good use of Gush. The margins here are smaller, since Izzet Delver runs fewer true copies of Island and needs to have enough lands on the board for Skred to be an effective removal spell. Like its monochromatic cousin Izzet Delver wants to stay ahead, only it uses removal in place of bounce. Unlike Delver, it can main phase Gush into Augur of Bolas to get the most out of the top five cards.

These are the two aggro-control decks that can leverage Gush best at the moment. A ub flavor of Delver used to run a copy or two of Gush but the strategy has not made much noise recently. Gush works here because these decks do not need an abundance of mana in the late game to make their cheap spells work. Instead they can apply pressure early and use the Mercadian Masques all-star to find the tools to stay ahead. These next decks use Gush in a completely different way.

Izzet Blitz is one of the longest lasting, and also most accomplished combo decks in Pauper. Using Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops, the deck wants to convert its mana directly into spells and attack for the win thanks to Shadow Rift, Slip Through Space, or Temur Battle Rage. As opposed to the Delver decks listed above, Izzet Blitz wants to use Gush not to stay ahead but to win the game. Ideally a Gush will result in three triggers on either Fiend or Cyclops but, almost as important, will also serve to generate a mana. When you only need to cast four spells to win Gush has the opportunity to fill 75% of that requirement while making it easier to complete the final quarter.


Finally there is Tribe Combo. The deck is similar to Izzet Blitz in that it wants to win in one swing. Unlike the Red deck, it uses Tireless Tribe and Inside Out to accomplish its goal. Gush, alone, represents 16 points of toughness which then becomes 17 points of power thanks to Inside Out. Combine that with the cantrip nature of the key spell and voilà — 21 damage. The deck is designed around keeping Tireless Tribe alive with cards like Dispel and Circular Logic. Gush is at its best here because it directly translates to a victory if resolved in the ideal situation. None of this digging for Ponders and Preordains to try and stay ahead. Without any blockers a Gush and an Inside Out means that the game is almost assuredly over. The deck started putting up results once Augur of Bolas hit the scene but make no mistake — without Gush it is hardly a contender.


Gush is one of those cards. It does something no other card in Pauper can do. We are only scratching the surface of the card’s impact. Iconic Masters is bringing Seeker of the Way and, well, that card looks mighty fine when paired with Gush.


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