Pauper is a format with excellent diversity. Five viable colors, a breadth of strategies, and a card pool spanning 25 years combine to bring a world of possibilities to each game.
But you know how most games of Pauper end? I turn my creatures sideways and hit you for 20.
That's boring. I'm sick of creatures. I want something else. I want other ways to win.
So this week, we're going to be featuring two decks that win without using creatures.
Admittedly, creatureless decks like these are fringe. None of the creatureless decks makes up even a single percentage point of the Pauper metagame. And even amongst creature-populated decks, there is some variety in how they win. Some kill you in a single swing with a 20-powered Tireless Tribe or a Nivix Cyclops. Others hit you 20 times with various 1/1 goblins. Sometimes creatures are there to complement a secondary clock, like the way Burn decks use Ghitu Lavarunner as a Shock with wings. And in other decks the creatures themselves are a Plan B or a Plan C at best, somewhere behind the Plan A strategy of a 20-point Rolling Thunder to the dome. But all ten of the Top 10 decks in Pauper run creatures. In fact, all twenty of the Top 20 decks in Pauper run creatures. So here's a couple of palate cleansing decks that don't.
The first is a deck that loves to play with its prey and torture its opponent to death. It's the original, “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts” deck. I love that the name “Caligula” somewhere became associated with this deck because it is so fitting.
U/B 'Caligula' | Pauper | albana, 5-0 in a Pauper League, 07-11-2018
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 Curse of the Bloody Tome
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Pristine Talisman
- Lands (22)
- 2 Island
- 3 Swamp
- 1 Barren Moor
- 2 Bojuka Bog
- 2 Lonely Sandbar
- 4 Dimir Aqueduct
- 4 Dismal Backwater
- 4 Radiant Fountain
Caligula is one of the slowest decks I have ever seen. But it gets there. Even if it wins on turn 23, it gets there. In fact, I think its pilots enjoy the agony it causes in taking so long to win when the game can feel locked up far, far before it's over.
The Caligula deck has three win conditions, which is downright remarkable considering how few cards are dedicated to ending their opponent's existence.
The first two are obvious: Plan A is to nick the opponent to death by repeatedly casting Evincar's Justice with buyback. Once a turn, twice a turn, it really doesn't matter. Some turns you skip the mutual bleeding to draw some more cards or to protect your life total. No need to take risks; you'll get there eventually. Especially if you're opponent is just dangling on the line waiting to die. The best case scenario is to cast Evincar's Justice with a Pristine Talisman or two in play. That way you gain back the two life you lose as you slowly chip away at your opponent's life total. And don't forget that Evincar's Justice is also a pretty darn effective sweeper. Not that you'll need too much help cleaning up creatures with your 14 other indiscriminate kill spells in the deck. Not even hexproof creatures like Slippery Bogle stand a chance: they're all untargeted Diabolic Edicts!
Plan B is to mill your opponent out so they lose the game from drawing off an empty library. Only two cards in the deck are involved in this win condition: just a pair of Curse of the Bloody Tome. But stick one of these on the battlefield and the game will eventually come to an end all on its own. Even at the base rate of Mill 2 / Draw 1 per turn circle, the most your cursed opponent can live is 17 more turns. And that's about an average kill speed for this deck no matter how it eventually wins. It also sure helps that enchantments are one of the most difficult permanents for your opponent to disrupt. Only two colors in Magic have natural enchantment removal, Green and White. Add in Black discard and Blue Counterspells, and that makes four, but two of them rely on timing. There are also occasional tricks like bouncing a permanent with a Dinrova Horror and forcing you to discard. But we won't worry about that for now. Because against Tron, decks that like to run annoying cards like Dinrova Horror, Pulse of Murasa, and Mnemonic Wall, we have a third win condition, one so subtle you probably didn't even see it.
Want to know the third, secret win condition of the Caligula deck? It's time. The MTGO clock. Simply put, once you're sitting at 50 life with a hand of seven cards, 15:00 minutes left on your MTGO clock and only 10:00 left on theirs, the match is effectively over. Because when it's on the line, you'll be able to finish your turn faster than they will, and there is almost no way they will be able to claw back and finish you off in time to win TWO games — as long as you effectively manage your clock. It's so insidious, so diabolic: it's Caligula. And it's one of the most frustrating decks you will ever play as it just sits and bores you to death.
I remember when I first encountered this deck, and I realized the clock was their backup win condition, I had to quickly discipline myself to stop doing anything else and just focus on the match and that darn MTGO clock. And even then, once I got behind in those precious seconds and minutes, I knew the game was over.
The second deck today is another deck that preys on creature decks, especially linear creature decks. If your only way to win is to turn your creatures sideways, you are out of luck against this deck. Only a few narrow sideboard cards can help break its stall. So, if you're a Modern fan of the Taking Turns deck, I present to you, Pauper Turbo Fog.
U/G Turbo Fog | Pauper | Residentzombie, 5-0 in a Pauper League, 02-28-2018
- Instants (30)
- 2 Respite
- 2 Tangle
- 2 Think Twice
- 4 Arcane Denial
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Fog
- 4 Moment's Peace
- 4 Muddle the Mixture
- 4 Thought Scour
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Jace's Erasure
- Lands (20)
- 2 Forest
- 6 Island
- 2 Radiant Fountain
- 2 Simic Growth Chamber
- 4 Terramorphic Expanse
- 4 Thornwood Falls
Like Caligula, Turbo Fog is a deck that both wins without creatures and utterly negates all of your opponent's creatures in the process. Both of the creatureless decks I am featuring today are designed to prey on creature decks, especially aggro decks.
The win condition for Turbo Fog is fairly obvious: 4 copies of Jace's Erasure backed up with absurd amounts of card draw. This deck tries to nullify the combat step, ignores your opponent's life total completely and instead relentlessly attacks their most fragile resource: their library.
What the win condition of milling can do to transform otherwise innocuous spells is absurd. With a single Jace's Erasure on the table, a card like Brainstorm becomes a one-mana Draw 3-Mill 3. And with the shuffle effect of four copies of Terramorphic Expanse, the “put two cards on top of your library” clause in Brainstorm transforms the cantrip into the Legacy-like “Draw 3-Tuck 2” which is especially useful when you're digging for a Dispel, a Jace's Erasure, or just one more Fog. Another silly spell in the deck is Arcane Denial. Are you sure that you will want to draw 2 cards for your 1 countered spell if it means being two cards closer to decking yourself? Even the caster's ability to draw just one card off the Arcane Denial puts you a card deeper to another Fog, or just drawing more cards to mill your opponent for more cards. Card draw spells like Compulsive Research and Deep Analysis double as kill spells, either by milling your opponent via Jace's Erasure, or if they have somehow removed your enchantment from play, just forcing your opponent to draw more cards until they have an empty library from drawing. Finally, observe that Muddle the Mixture plays triple duty: it can be a two-mana Dispel, a Demonic Tutor for the missing Jace's Erasure, or it can tutor up one of your eight two-mana Fogs: Tangle, Moment's Peace, or Respite.
I hope you enjoy torturing your opponent or milling them to death. Remember that Pauper is more than creatures! And if you draw a couple of Snap concessions along the way, remember that your opponent is just playing tribute to your evil genius!
Keep having fun out there,
Rev. David Wright