I wanted to talk about the impact of 25th Anniversary Masters on Pauper. Reprint sets are great for the format in that they provide access to cards that are a bit too powerful for Standard. Many of the format’s current staples are from Masters sets—like Chainer’s Edict or Dinrova Horror—or non-Standard sets—Ash Barrens and Palace Sentinels. Since 25th Anniversary Masters was drawing from the entire history of the game I was optimistic that Pauper would get some options that would shake things up.
In the intervening Challenge and League results, my prayers were answered precisely once.
BadSanta83, 5-0 in a Pauper League
Frenzied Goblin and Hordeling Outburst are almost obvious. Pauper Goblins has been around for the better part of a decade—it was one of the best decks in the format shortly after Pauper was officially sanctioned on Magic Online, and these two cards play nicely with the existing shell. Outburst is great with Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Bushwhacker, and the duo of Mogg Raider and Goblin Sledder. Frenzied Goblin acts as a mana sink that can turn off a single blocker each combat while also benefiting from the Goblin creature type. When I first looked through the 25th spoilers it was Frenzied Goblin that caught my eye.
Frenzied Goblin has a Pro Tour pedigree and provides an effect not often seen in Pauper. While games have recently shifted away from a focus on creature combat, the ability to render a single blocker useless remains important. Boros Monarch thrives on setting up a defensive front while Gurmag Angler decks often have to leave one defender back. Frenzied Goblin is repeatable so if it survives it can turn off a blocker every turn, a lot like Goblin Heelcutter. The advantage of Frenzied Goblin is that it can go to work as early as turn 2. Why does this matter? Augur of Bolas.
Augur of Bolas came to Pauper in Modern Masters 2017. While it was no secret that the card was going to matter, it was not nearly as hyped as cards like Burning-Tree Emissary, Thunderous Wrath, and Dinrova Horror. Those cards are all rather straightforward in their application. Augur’s strength is more subtle. The ability to replace itself is obvious, but the body on Augur is where it really shines.
The 2 spot is incredibly important in Pauper. Considering the abundance of 2-power 1-drops like Nettle Sentinel and Goblin Cohort, as well as less robust options like Elite Vanguard (and now Jackal Pup), the ability to block on turn 2 and survive, the ability to absorb damage, matters. 2 mana is also where a number of important plays take place. That’s when cards like Prophetic Prism come down and it’s the amount of mana needed to cast Spellstutter Sprite. Augur of Bolas is a turn-2 play that does not lose its potency in the late game while also shoring up a weakness for control decks—the combat phase.
Augur of Bolas was quickly adopted by every non-Tron blue deck. Augur comes down on turn 2 and can replace itself. Despite the fact that the Merfolk cannot natively find land cards, it often can accomplish this task with the help of Ponder and Preordain. The combination of Augur and Preordain has become the backbone of multiple blue decks in Pauper. Working in concert, Augur of Bolas and Preordain have ushered in an age where blue decks can skimp on land and increase their virtual spell count. Preordain also has the advantage of making it easier to keep land-light hands. That being said, I do not believe that these cards need to be joined at the hip.
Augur of Bolas wants to be played with spells. While it is often found alongside Gush in both Delver decks and combo builds, I have been enjoying casting the 2-drop in Forbidden Alchemy decks. In these builds, Augur can find the engine, removal, or counters. It truly is a utility tool. But I have cut Preordain from my builds.
Why? If you follow me on Facebook you may have read my opinion on the sorcery as it relates to the overall health of Pauper. That being said I found that by cutting the card from Dimir Alchemy decks in favor of more robust card draw I could more easily keep pace with the top grindy deck in the format—Boros Monarch. As a result, I had to go up to 23 lands. This also made Compulsive Research slightly better. Research gets the nod over Mulldrifter, specifically because it could be found with Augur of Bolas.
Mulldrifter is a fantastic card. It was the backbone of blue decks in Pauper for many years, and it remains important in Tron decks and various Ghostly Flicker builds. At 5 mana, however, it is too slow for Pauper at the moment. Waiting until you can cast the flying fish and do something else means waiting until turn 6. Yet another reason why Augur is good—you can use the spell you find immediately in the mid-to-late game.
Alchemy decks rely on trading 1-for-1 throughout the game until Gurmag Angler can take over. Compulsive Research not only puts two (or three) cards into the graveyard for Angler’s delve ability but it can keep you up on cards after exchanging resources for multiple turns. To help with card flow, I added Think Twice. I would have loved to run Deep Analysis, but the 3 life on flashback is a steep price to pay for a deck that needs to manage its health late.
Focusing on Compulsive Research meant making some other changes. I initially cut down on creature recurring elements like Soul Manipulation. After a League run, I found that there were times when I really needed to regrow a Gurmag Angler. I eyed Grim Harvest for a while before settling on Wander in Death. Wander has the advantage of cycling early and being a game changer later. And it works well with Augur of Bolas.
The final two flourishes I added are creatures and are both aimed at attrition matchups. The first is Thorn of the Black Rose. Having a main-deck out to Monarch decks is a powerful option and in some matchups it is a personal Howling Mine. The other card I tried out was Skittering Crustacean.
It’s a conspiracy I tells ya’.
In certain matchups I found myself wanting a large, unsolvable threat. Games would drag on and if even I could keep even on cards I would fall behind on threats. Despite its size, Gurmag Angler could still die to Skred. Skittering Crustacean is expensive to be sure, but once it goes monstrous it becomes a true house. As a 6/7 hexproof it can eat most creatures in combat and shrugs off removal from both Izzet Delver and Boros Monarch. I was pleased with a single copy and could see finding space for another somewhere. With all that in mind here is my list for Dimir Alchemy:
It is far from a standard build and it could very well be wrong in some areas. But Augur of Bolas and Forbidden Alchemy give you incredible flexibility in deck building. You can run a wide array of threats and answers and adjust as appropriate for the metagame. Even without Preordain you get to see a ton of cards and there is little more enjoyable than casting Forbidden Alchemy at the end of your opponent’s turn and then slamming a 1-mana Gurmag Angler into play.