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Delirium, Tron, and Trains


I’m sitting down to write this article and for the first time in months I’m excited at the prospect of a relatively open format. Of course this would be the week that circumstances out of my control kept me from diving headfirst into league play. I managed to get some games in with somewhat updated decks but they are far from perfectly tuned. But I will say that going into a match and not having to worry about clicking F6 on turn four is quite a reprieve.

Rather than focus on a metagame in flux I wanted to take today to discuss some thoughts on Pauper. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what the format may look like once Peregrine Drake is gone and I’m excited to see if these ideas are realized in the future. Let’s dive in.

On Gurmag Angler

The more I play with Gurmag Angler the less impressed I am with the card. I do not mean to understate how absolutely powerful a 5/5 for a single Black mana can be, but I feel this card is more like Myr Enforcer than any other creature. Angler is a fantastic offensive threat but it cannot just go into any deck. It is most at home in a build that can get the Zombie Fish down at a severe discount. Dimir Delver is a perfect hope for Angler as it is packed to the brim with cheap sells and can run Thought Scour and its ilk with a straight face.

Twisted Abomination
Angler is not a payoff that just fits easily into any build. Dimir Delver begs for a density of spells which in turn fuels Delve. While other decks, notably Mono-Black Control, have run Gurmag Angler I feel that this is by and large a mistake. What does Angler do in these decks in the latter turns of a match? Most of the time it is simply a big creature that gets chumped. Angler gets the job done but I think we can do better.

As a late game finisher in a non-dedicated deck I am a fan of Twisted Abomination. The A-Bomb, as it was once known, can cycle for a Swamp early which is an underrated ability. Often times you see decks cutting lands to prevent flood and cards with landcycling can mitigate this fear. In the late game Abomination can go toe to toe with Angler and come out ahead while also dodging the popular Red removal spells.

Twisted Abomination does a fine job of acting as a copy of The Abyss. What about trying to attack earlier? In this instance I prefer Thraben Foulbloods. Foulbloods is a card that got lost thanks to the release timing of Eldritch Moon. As a 3/2 for 2b, it is a bit below rate for an aggressive creature. In a deck that can consistently turn on Delirium, the Hounds get far better with four evasive power. Delirium is also easier to maintain than Threshold in a world full of Bojuka Bogs. While Thraben Foulbloods does make demands on deck construction, Black can easily find a home for both Dead Weight and Metalspinner's Puzzleknot. Barren Moor, Terramorphic Expanse, or Ash Barrens all work to get a Land into the bin. Four is definitely less than five but Foulbloods are harder to block and easier to recast. Conveniently they are also able to be re-bought with Unearth.

Thraben Foulbloods is just one example of a card that never even had a chance in the world of Peregrine Drake. While it make not prove good enough in the long run it finally has a shot.

On Ash Barrens

Ash Barrens
Ash Barrens is the newest common on Magic Online. Released in Commander 2016 in paper and only available in Treasure Chests on the digital platform the card presents some interesting questions. First is card access. At least initially it appears hard to get a full playset (although this is likely to change as time goes on) and I wonder how long it will be before the card starts to show up in top tier lists. The second is the strength of Ash Barrens as it presents an incredible source of fixing not previously seen in the format.

Comparing Ash Barrens to Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds makes sense as they all can go and get the exact basic land. The difference is that Barrens can also tap for mana and has to be cycled which means it is far worse on turn one. The closest comparisons may be the Panorama’s from Shards of Alara and Warped Landscape. These lands can tap for a colorless while fixing mana late at a reasonable cost. Panoramas work well enough but for decks that are wedge base (a color and two enemies) the best option has been Warped Landscape.

Ash Barrens is always going to produce colorless but is at its best in a deck with important splash cards. The ability to thin a deck and get the right land for the job is vital. The thing that makes Barrens even more attractive is its interaction with cards like Boros Garrison. Now you can commit a land to turn one and on the second turn follow it up with the a bounceland while also fetching the right land for turn three. Tapping the Barrens before it is returned provides just enough mana for the Basic Landcycling.

Here is an updated take one of my old favorites making use of some new cards.

Murasa Black already wants to run a variety of removal and varying the types makes Thraben Foulbloods a strong way to close out games. Ash Barrens not only helps find the lone Forest but it also provides a perfect target for Pulse of Murasa. Given the current state of the metagame having access to some number of Wickerbough Elder main makes sense as it can handle pesky permanents while leaving behind a solid body.

Broken Things

The absence of Peregrine Drake leaves two different decks at the top of the power heap. Affinity is tried and true (and is already off to a strong start). The other had almost completely vanished in the old metagame but is primed to make a comeback.

Tron simply wants to go over the opposition. The Pauper version of the deck has become increasingly greedy by reducing the number of lands that produce discrete colors of mana. Instead the deck relies on Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, Prophetic Prism, and Prismatic Lens to ensure it can connect on key spells. Tron often finds itself under pressure early until it sticks a Fangren Marauder. At that point winning via damage gets significantly harder and it is only a matter of time until a Ulamog's Crusher or Rolling Thunder ends the game.

Affinity is known and has a natural foil in Gorilla Shaman. Tron, despite being packed full of strong cards, only has so many. Being able to counter or remove the few threats goes a long way. Trying to remove the lands is a fool’s errand as Tron simply has more important lands than one can easily answer.

Renegade Freighter

Renegade Freighter

Another victim of Peregrine Drake, Renegade Freighter is quite the damage engine. In any aggressive deck the Vehicle allows late game creatures that normally would not be able to punch through the ability to pile on the damage. Early on in the post-Drake metagame we saw at least one Stompy deck adopt the train.

Personally I’ve run the Freighter to good ends in aggressive White decks. Renegade Freighter works very well with Bonesplitter (seriously that is a ton of damage). Where White really shines, however, is with Benevolent Bodyguard and Veteran Armorer. The Armorer not only Crews the train but also protects it from Lightning Bolt. Bodyguard does a ton of work either by countering a removal spell or helping the Freighter punch through the final points of damage.

Pauper is still adjusting to the new metagame and as results start to trickle in we will have a better idea of the landscape. In the meanwhile, it’s time to explore.

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