I took the plunge and bought three complete Pauper decks on MTGO earlier this week. I laid down $85 bucks on Tickets and I can now field Auras Hexproof, Stompy, and Elves. The Pauper Metagame has converged around Blue Control, and here I am going green! As a player with a degree from the University of Michigan and an inherent blue bias, I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t sting a little bit.
Today’s article will focus on two things: First, I’ll explain why I think green decks are extremely well-positioned in Pauper right now. Second, I’ll talk you through the rationale behind my builds of the three best green decks in the format.
The Green Gambit in a Big Blue World
Doesn’t it make sense to play the best deck? The easy, intuitive answer is “Yes.” The answer I’ve arrived at from practice is “Not exactly.”
Previous Level Blue–meaning Gush decks before the blue bans–were dominant for a similar but substantially different reason. The default best deck, UB Delver, didn’t really have bad matchups, it only had bad draws. The Gush/Daze decks were actually better than almost every other strategy.
Daze specifically gave the archetype a huge advantage since it had four catch-all, free counterspells. Since Gush decks used returning Islands as a substitution for paying mana, the strategy was based upon being as low to the ground as possible, making it difficult for decks to actually get under them. There were a few decks that could consistently grind blue out or go over the top, primarily RW Monarch and Tron, but the efficient card draw and selection of the Delver decks made even these “bad matchups” closely contested. Jeskai doesn’t have the same raw power and efficiency of UB Delver because its plays are all tied to paying mana rather than sidestepping it. The current blue decks have a higher fail rate than the Gush versions and without Daze are much more vulnerable to aggressive decks getting underneath and winning before Jeskai can get set up.
I don’t love the Jeskai mirror, and that is coming from the perspective of a player who typically loves blue mirrors. The last two Grand Prix that I Top 8’d I was on the best blue deck (Legacy Miracles and Modern Izzet Phoenix) and made Top 8 by slaying mirrors with a combined 11-1 across both events.
Since the deck tends to win by running an opponent out of options and coming over the top with counterspell/removal recursion, the match up tends to be more about who draws more of the half of the deck that matters. Hedging for the mirror comes at a cost of weakening the deck against other linear strategies, creating a real tension in building the deck.
The other consideration is that Jeskai has pushed most of its natural midrange prey completely out of the metagame and so it has very few easy matchups. The two-thirds of the non-blue metagame that remains are all decks with their target firmly on beating blue decks.
Green Stompy in Pauper
I love Stompy in Pauper and here’s my current 75. It was the first deck I assembled.
16 Forest 4 Nettle Sentinel 1 Jungle Lion 2 Vault Skirge 4 Burning-Tree Emissary 4 River Boa 4 Nest Invader 3 Quirion Ranger 4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk 3 Hunger of the Howlpack 4 Savage Swipe 4 Rancor 1 Moldervine Cloak 4 Vines of Vastwood 1 Elephant Guide Sideboard 2 Aerial Volley 2 Weather the Storm 1 Life Goes On 3 Gleeful Sabotage 2 Serene Heart 1 Epic Confrontation 1 Viridian Longbow 3 Relic of Progenitus
The first hedge against blue I made was to make sure I maxed out on River Boas.
Not all the Stompy decks play the full four copies, but I would probably play up to seven if given the choice right now! Unblockable and unkillable is a huge game against blue decks, especially when we can boost the snake’s power with Rancor or Howl.
I also play the full suite of Vines of Vastwood and would never consider playing less. It’s obviously a great way to counter a removal spell, but it also doubles as a removal spell since it lets you attack into big blockers and eat them. Vines is also awesome at countering an opponent’s auras or pump spells. It’s trickiest card in the deck and creates the most lines of play.
I’ve found Relic to be a great tool for defeating the random Foglock/Flicker decks. I’m actually somehow 4-0 against Tron decks with Stompy since I’ve started playing. I know the matchup isn’t favorable for Stompy, but the plan does provide a realistic chance to win.
I’m also 3-1 vs Jeskai. I feel solid about Aerial Volley as my focused sideboard card for this match up. Killing Skyfisher is huge. Blanking a Spellstutter Sprite in a key spot is amazing. Or, simply picking off a Mulldrifter with Ephemerate on the stack.
I’m on two copies of Serene Heart. I’ve been facing a ton of Bogles lately and this card tends to easily win the game when put onto the stack during combat. All their Auras die and then we get to block and eat the Bogle!
The biggest drawback to playing Stompy is that it has horrendous matchups against black decks and Elves. The Elves matchup is so bad I’ve basically given up, and black control decks are not much better. The good news is that these decks don’t account for a huge portion of the metagame.
Hexproof Auras (Bogles)
Auras Hexproof is a solid choice. It tends to win game ones against any non-Fog deck (which are not a huge percentage of the metagame, and can be beaten with Fling). I was also surprised to find Bogles has a much better black matchup than Stompy, which I wouldn’t have expected since they have access to Edicts. The downside is that it is much more vulnerable to focused hate cards post-sideboard, which tend to be devastating.
Hexproof is an extremely potent strategy and has actually won a bunch of big events in the past month. It forces the opponent to have specific cards to interact with it at the right time.
16 Snow-Covered Forest 1 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Silhana Ledgewalker 3 Kor Skyfisher 4 Gladecover Scout 4 Slippery Boggle 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 4 Utopia Sprawl 4 Abundant Growth 4 Ethereal Armor 4 Rancor 2 Cartouche of Solidarity 1 Fling 4 Ancestral Mask 3 Armadillo Cloak Sideboard 3 Standard Bearer 2 Cartouche of Ambition 3 Dispel 2 Return to Nature 3 Electrickery 1 Fling 1 Flaring Pain
I like the Skyfisher/Snow engine in the deck in consider it to be a strict upgrade to previous versions. The addition of Skyfisher allows the deck a great blocker against fast aggro and some ability to dig. The sideboard games are most important since opponents will likely add some extremely focused hate cards into the mix that can win the game outright.
The key is lining up your answers with their haymakers. I love Return to Nature because it covers a lot of bases and don’t forget it can exile a Moment’s Peace, Prismatic Strands, or exile Ghostly Flicker post-board.
The Jeskai decks typically have Leave no Trace or Scorn, making Dispel huge here. I’m a big fan of boarding out Armadillo Cloak (Since it is a spicy target for Leave No Trace) in favor of Cartouche of Ambition, which also deals with Standard Bearer.
Auras Hexproof is an exercise in free wins and extremely complicated wins. Many games will be one-sided because the opponent cannot interact with our linear strategy. The key is to anticipate the sideboard hate each opposing archetype will bring and hope you can line up answers or dodge the card altogether. It is also worth noting it is by far the most expensive of the three to build on MTGO, primarily because the playset of Ancestral Masks (at 28 tickets) costs more than most decks!
In general, I like most matchups with Auras Hexproof, including Jeskai. The key is really dodging hate cards in the sideboard games and making sure you cover your bases to interact with the haymaker cards. In general, Foglock decks tend to be the bad matchup for Bogles, but we have Fling and a sideboard plan to compensate.
Of the three decks, I think Elves is likely the strongest overall deck in terms of power level and consistency.
9 Forest 4 Birchlore Rangers 3 Llanowar Elves 3 Fyndhorn Elves 2 Elvish Mystic 4 Nettle Sentinel 4 Quirion Ranger 2 Wellwisher 4 Priest of Titania 4 Elvish Vanguard 4 Timberwatch Elf 4 Lys Alana Huntmaster 4 Land Grant 4 Winding Way 4 Lead the Stampede 1 Viridian Longbow Sideboard 3 Essence Warden 1 Viridian Longbow 3 Gleeful Sabotage 1 Return to Nature 2 Faerie Macabre 3 Spidersilk Armor 2 Scattershot Archer
Elves boasts a fantastic matchup against Stompy, which is a huge boon as it is one of the most common decks on MTGO. It’s basically an automatic win every time. Another interesting thing about Elves is that in Paper it tends to have a terrible Tron matchup, but in MTGO it’s actually much closer than it should be because of the chess clock.
I’ve been on the Tron side many times and lost the match to Wellwishers + Quirion Rangers. Since Tron doesn’t typically kill creatures, the Elves player can gain copious amounts of life that takes forever to undo with Mulldrifter/Dinrova Horror beatdown once the hard lock is assembled.
The Tron player can pretty easily arrive at a point in the game where they will inevitably win the game, but it simply takes tons of clock to click through it all! Elves also has Viridian Longbow to break through Foglocks–it’s actually a much better Longbow deck than Stompy since it makes a ton of mana to move the Bow around for multiple activations. Even with Bow, I’ve lost to Foglock with Stompy to the point where I question whether it’s worth it, but it’s definitely worth it with Elves.
The biggest thing we need to watch out for with Elves are sweepers:
The key, especially in sideboard games where sweepers tend to come into play, is to know how far we need to extend in order to pressure without becoming too vulnerable. There’s a lot of give and take here. The great news–and why I think Elves is likely the strongest green deck in the abstract–is that Elves is the linear deck most able to recover from a blowout sideboard card.
It’s not uncommon to overcome an Electrickery or sweeper simply by rebuilding with a big Lead the Stampede. Since the deck has such a broken mana engine between Quirion Ranger, Priest of Titania, Nettle Sentinel, and Birchlore Ranger, it is possible to lose multiple creatures to a sweeper and immediately redeploy a team, draw a bunch of creatures, and keep the pressure on.
With Elves, I typically want to fade Foglock decks and Pestilence decks because they are the worst matchups. It’s also worth noting that on MTGO, Elves is by far the most click-heavy deck of the three since there are a lot of triggers being made each turn, but they become pretty automatic after a few matches.
Jeskai may be the format-defining deck, but Pauper is full of viable options that are more than capable of winning at a similar clip when built and played well. Jeskai may be at the top of the heap at 15% of the winner’s metagame, but the green decks are lapping at its heels–these three decks combine for almost 25% of winning decks, which is comparable to Jeskai and Flicker Tron combined.
- Bogles 6%
- Elves 8%
- Stompy 9%
Jeskai may be running away with the narrative, but in reality the picture isn’t nearly as skewed as one might think–there are clearly other real, viable options worth considering. I know we’ve got a new set that will shake things up, but if you’re looking for a sweet new deck to play in the meantime there are good reasons to take a green deck for a spin.