It didn’t take long for Guilds of Ravnica to have an impact on Pauper. Mere days after the set was released a deck featuring Devious Cover-Up made Top 8 of the Pauper Challenge. In a Mystical Teachings deck, the latest counterspell didn’t take long to establish a pedigree.
TSPJendrek, Top 8 at September 30th Pauper Challenge
Mystical Teachings is one of the more powerful engines available in Pauper, with the ability to go and get nearly any answer at instant speed. That it also generates a form of card advantage by using one half to find a second copy of Teachings and the other to get a desired spell gives the strategy strength as the game goes long.
The problem is that the other engines in Pauper are faster. Gush comes online early and is perfectly at home in a deck that can cast Counterspell. Gush decks can use the early game to establish a threat and then use the eponymous instant to draw into gas and generate the mana needed to cast it. The fight between Gush and Teachings comes down to a moment where Gush tries to leverage their burst of power and overwhelm Teachings’ defenses.
The Monarch is the other engine that made Mystical Teachings less reliable. The Monarch emblem will change hands upon combat damage, and most Mystical Teachings decks eschew creatures in favor of other win conditions. A resolved Palace Sentinels or Thorn of the Black Rose means that the Monarch player will be drawing two cards a turn for free. If Teachings wants to draw two cards it first has to find a Think Twice and then spend 5 mana. This translates to a fight about resources that the Monarch player can win due to the lack of mana investment.
Now Devious Cover-Up doesn’t solve either of these issues in any new way. Instead, it allows the Teachings deck to lean more on early game interaction and not have to worry about closing. Devious Cover-Up means that a Mystical Teachings deck does not have to rely on Curse of the Bloody Tome or running nearly 80 cards to win the game. Rather, the counter gives the deck a chance to lean on the aggro killer Evincar’s Justice to control the board early and then combo with Pristine Talisman late as way to slowly edge up on life.
Herein resides the genius of Cover-Up. Evincar’s Justice is at its best early when it can sweep away threats. Burning one on turn 4 is often correct but then the Teachings pilot could be left without a way to end the game for several turns. Devious Cover-Up mitigates this by letting you spend a Justice early and then shuffle it back in for the endgame. Two copies of Cover-Up means that in many instances you will never run out of cards—just keep shuffling one back in. By allowing Teachings decks to play to their strength—the long game—Devious Cover-Up has given the archetype a boost in some tough matchups. While it may not be enough to turn the tide completely, the presence of Cover-Up has given people an incentive to run the deck in competition. Another Devious Cover-Up Teachings deck made the Top 32 of the October 7th challenge and the decks have been littering the League results as well. Devious Cover-Up is giving long game decks an opportunity to prove their worth.
kungfutrees, 5-0 in a Pauper League
This is another take on the strategy. On the surface this is an Izzet Value deck. Pairing Ghostly Flicker with Archaeomancer gives the deck the ability to rebuy any spell. With two copies of ‘Mancer, the Izzet pilot can draw an extra card every turn for 3 mana. The wheels fall off if the Archaeomancers are countered. Again, Devious Cover-Up is a fix by shuffling the key cards back in. Now the game can reach an inevitable end by looping Ghostly Flicker through both copies of Archaeomancer to recur Lightning Bolt enough times to deal the final points of damage. Kungfutrees also gets extra value out of the counter thanks to Hypothesizzle and Oona’s Grace. They can discard something of note to the blue-red spell in the midgame, perhaps to kill a Palace Sentinels, and then make sure that it comes back later on thanks to the Cover-Up. Similarly, they can add lands back to the deck to potentially deck their opponent with Oona’s Grace.
Corner cases for sure.
The most interesting thing about these decks, to me, is that they both rely on Think Twice as their main card advantage engine. Before Devious Cover-Up I think this is correct but now I am less sure. The ability to shuffle cards back into your deck means that something like Accumulated Knowledge could be better in the long game. The first Think Twice is better than the first Accumulated Knowledge but after that the Nemesis standout is always going to be a better bargain. Doing this would require adding additional early game card velocity, but something like Hieroglyphic Illumination could fit the bill.
Devious Cover-Up is a rare card in the format of commons. It had a near immediate impact and is already starting to wrap game play around its presence. At least it does this after turn 10, which is exactly where the Teachings player wants to be.