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From Pro Tour to Pauper


Wretched Gryff
Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is in the books. Even though Pauper is not a professional level format, I end up poring over decklists in an attempt to glean applicable knowledge. While Pauper may lack powerful options like Kozilek's Return, Elder Deep-Fiend, and Collected Company, it is still Magic, and many of the same principles apply.

The biggest differences between Pauper and other formats include the lack of Planeswalkers and huge card advantage swings. Mulldrifter exists, as do Crypt Rats and other sweepers, but trades above a two-for-one are relatively rare. Similarly persistent effects are obscure. Curse of the Bloody Tome and Curse of the Pierced Heart see play as resilient win conditions and Thermo-Alchemist has made a splash as a way to supplement burn spells. Tortured Existence remains a pipe dream for repeatable card advantage. Cards are precious resources in Pauper and so each one must pull its weight.

As a consequence of the lack of wide swings in card quantity, the speed at which decks can be deployed takes on an increased importance. The ability to cheat mana costs is paramount in Pauper. More than this, it has been the foundation for many of the format’s best decks and banned cards.

Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens, and Temporal Fissure all got the axe due to the presence of Storm. Storm’s ability to create extra copies without requiring an investment of mana made it so that these spells could generate an effect far greater than their cost. Frantic Search and Cloud of Faeries both had the ability to generate mana and Peregrine Drake may join them this September. Invigorate just ignores mana entirely while Cloudpost generates mana at no other card can match. And Treasure Cruise, well, Treasure Cruise simply rewarded you for playing Magic and made it impossible to not run a single mana draw three.

The presence of these cards indicate that mana efficacy is a big deal in Pauper. If a deck is ever able to abuse the mana system in a way that is so far and away better than everything else in the format, it is likely going to be banned. In fact, looking over some of the best decks historically, they all attempt to bypass the constraints of the mana system in some way.

Remember those cards I mentioned? Collected Company, Elder Deep-Fiend, and Kozilek's Return all attempt to subvert the mana system. Adapting these same ideas to Pauper could bear fruit.

The first style of deck that really caught my eye in Sydney were the various U/B Zombie decks powered by Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam. Haunted Dead is probably my favorite card from Eldritch Moon for Commander; I love being able to present threats from a different angle. Pauper is not heavily populated with these effects but that did not stop me from trying.

Shadows over Innistrad provided two creatures that could generate offense around counterspells. Dauntless Cathar and Ghoulcaller's Accomplice both can generate a token from the graveyard. Their ability to do so cannot be countered in Pauper and while the creatures created, a 1/1 flying Spirit and a 2/2 Zombie, are not impressive, it is the fact they can enter play from the graveyard that set them apart.

The cost on these two tokens is higher than one would want to pay for a creature of comparable size. 4 mana for a 2/2 is well above a reasonable cost but 2 mana for a 1/1 flyer is not nearly as offensive. The key, of course, is getting the Cathar into the graveyard.

Enter Thraben Standard Bearer. The Eldritch Moon 1-drop can churn out an army if left unanswered. Starting on turn two the token generator can get around counterspells while also getting key cards into the bin. In a similar vein cards like Battle Screech and Cenn's Enlistment can be cast from the graveyard to grind out answers. Creatures with Unearth like Rotting Rats and Viscera Dragger can use their ability to force a threat to the battlefield for a single turn.

Thraben Standard Bearer and Rotting Rats had me thinking about Undead Servant. As a lone creature the Magic Origins card is unimpressive but once it can generate two or three total bodies things start to get interesting. Using Rotting Rats or the Bearer to set up five or even 7 power from the first Undead Servant that gets cast might be enough to push that card towards the realm of playability.

More than anything else this deck is an early concept. I doubt that this strategy is currently good enough to make headway in Pauper. That being, the ability to commit threats to the battlefield without actually having to cast spells is something of note. Grapple with the Past had a breakout performance at the Pro Tour and Black has Corpse Churn which is not far behind and does good work dumping cards into the discard pile. Given enough time a deck like this can take off.

Emerge decks also caught my eye at the Pro Tour. These decks cheat mana in a more traditional way by attempting to reduce mana costs. While these decks attempted to leverage the power of Kozilek's Return they also were able to produce massive threats at a discounted rate. Pauper has two creatures with Emerge in It of the Horrid Swarm and Wretched Gryff, the latter of which made a splash in Standard.

My first attempts at an Emerge strategy centered on Mono-green builds that accessed mana for Wretched Gryff via Utopia Sprawl. This experiments also leaned on Ulvenwald Captive and Overgrown Battlement to generate an abundance of mana that could either be used to Transform Captive or hard cast an Eldrazi. The deck was fun but it made the mistake of not running blue cards.

Since Wretched Gryff requires Blue mana to be at its best it made sense to include some number of strong cards that required Islands. Mulldrifter is one of the best cards available so it is an easy inclusion. Coiling Oracle is harder to cast than Elvish Visionary but provides significant upside when it hits a land. Sea Gate Oracle is a fantastic filter spell that makes your heavy hitters easier to cast. Llanowar Empath is similar to Oracle except it does more work on the cost reduction end. Impulse helps to stitch everything together while Condescend helps to smooth draws early and seal the door late.

Fierce Empath is an absolute monster in this strategy. The ability to get whatever threat you want and then cast it at a severe discount is absurd. Dark Petition sees play in Vintage. Now Fierce Empath is no Dark Petition as it has to survive to do its best work but a tutor that doubles as a ritual is something wonderful.

I have not had a chance to put this deck through the wringer but my few games against Peregrine Drake decks have shown me this strategy has merit. By committing larger threats to the board early, Emerge applies pressure and forces decks to act at an accelerated pace. If Drake decks lack a spout, Kaervek's Torch or Rolling Thunder, the threats in Emerge prove to be too much.

I mentioned that Fierce Empath is a tutor that acts as a Dark Ritual. Mulldrifter, Sea Gate Oracle, and Llanowar Empath are in the same boat. Gurmag Drowner misses the cut since it needs to sacrifice another creature to get the Forbidden Alchemy effect but it is close, which is a testament to how powerful the discount can be.

Emerge ranks well below Affinity and Tron on the strength chart in Pauper. These two mechanics can generate mana over and over again while simultaneously advancing a deck’s position. I’d place Emerge on par with Delve and ahead of Devotion and Slivers. The latter two require multiple prior investments to be at their best while Emerge only requires one. Delve uses up resources as well but requires a much easier to achieve condition, cards in the graveyard, than Emerge, creature in play.

New mechanics sometimes flounder in Pauper. The threshold required for something to make its mark is rather high. Emerge has all the attributes needed to make an impact. The ceiling is known and attainable and it cheats on mana. While it may take some time before Emerge makes waves I would not be shocked to see it putting up 5-0 finishes in the months to come.

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