A few weeks ago an interesting list made it to 5-0 in the Pauper Competitive League. The deck was a new take on an established fringe archetype: Golgari Aristocrats.
VampireGarlicPizza, 5-0 in a Pauper Competitive League
2 Golgari Rot Farm 4 Jungle Hollow 6 Forest 8 Swamp 3 Blisterpod 4 Bloodthrone Vampire 3 Brindle Shoat 2 Butcher Ghoul 4 Carrion Feeder 4 Mortician Beetle 4 Nest Invader 4 Young Wolf 2 Lead the Stampede 1 Rite of Consumption 2 Scarscale Ritual 2 Unearth 2 Hunger of the Howlpack 1 Tragic Slip 2 Rancor Sideboard 2 Aerial Volley 2 Cartouche of Ambition 2 Caustic Caterpillar 1 Diabolic Edict 2 Evil Presence 2 Innocent Blood 2 Scattershot Archer 2 Shrivel
Now I love sacrificing things for value and have been trying to make various Aristocrats decks work in Pauper. The archetype, named after Falkenrath Aristocrat and Cartel Aristocrat from Tom Martell’s Pro Tour Gatecrash winning deck (designed by Sam Black), is about sacrificing creatures for value. These decks tend to have combo finishes, either with Blood Artist, or more recently Zulaport Cutthroat.
I took the exact list into the Friendly League for a run and got a pretty easy 4-1 finish. The deck played better than most of my builds of the archetype thanks to the inclusion of Mortician Beetle. Another card downshifted in the hugely impactful Modern Masters 2017, Mortician Beetle gets bigger whenever a creature is sacrificed. Between Carrion Feeder, Blisterpod, and Nest Invader, it was hardly any trouble to get Beetles that were larger than Gurmag Anglers. That sold me on investigating the archetype.
The other thing that impressed me about the deck was how powerful Lead the Stampede was in the build. It was not only that you needed creatures to function, but the density of creatures, combined with their low mana cost, also made it easy to refill your hand and then populate the board. At the same time, I was not enamored with Scarscale Ritual. The ability to reset Young Wolf or Butcher Ghoul was nice but I kept wanting my Rituals to be Leads. Eventually I cut the 2-mana spell entirely and opted for a third copy of the green Opportunity.
Of course this led to me wanting to up my creature count even more. I found myself siding out Unearth often and decided to cut them for Pit Keeper. Unearth is a powerful card but it is at its best when you are cheating the creature into play for cheap. If Unearth is giving me a 1-mana discount, is it worth it? I took the other road and opted for the cheap Gravedigger. While Pit Keeper adds 2 mana to the creature’s casting cost, it has the benefit of actually being a creature and being potential fodder for a Carrion Feeder.
Once I cut Scarscale Ritual I started to be bearish on Butcher Ghoul. Instead, these became copies of Sultai Emissary. The Emissary has the advantage of going to the graveyard—helping with Pit Keeper—and “draws” a card directly onto the battlefield. Emissary also has the advantage of making a colorless manifest, which matters in matchups with Guardian of the Guildpact.
The last card I cut was Hunger of the Howlpack. Hunger is an incredibly powerful card but at the same time I have never been in a position where I actively wanted to cast it. It’s not that the potential bonus isn’t good, it’s just that I never felt the need to try and win a combat with the pump spell. Rather, the turns where I wanted to use Hunger I did not need to because I was going all in to kill my opponent.
Aristocrats approaches combat differently than a deck like Stompy. Stompy is a mono-green aggressive deck that can generate card advantage via the combat step thanks to pump spells. Hunger of the Howlpack has additional utility in the deck thanks to cards like Silhana Ledgewalker, Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, and Vault Skirge. No creature in Aristocrats gets a significant bonus from the additional stats. That, combined with the increased reliance on Lead the Stampede, led me to cut Hunger for more creatures.
Lead the Stampede proved to be so good that I looked for way to replace Rancor with, well, anything. I considered Elvish Herder, and Crowned Ceratok. During one League run I tried Foul-Tongue Shriek as a way to steal wins. None of these worked as well as Rancor. Despite not being a creature, the card applies a unique pressure on the opponent and when paired with one of your growing creatures it can present an untenable threat. Hot take: Rancor is a good card.
One of the big hurdles with the deck was being able to empty your hand. Aristocrats wants to have bodies on the battlefield to fuel Carrion Feeder. There is no Collected Company to just whip things into play so creatures have to actually be cast. While the average mana cost of these creatures is low, you are still limited in the early game. I looked at LSV’s Top 8 list from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad for inspiration and found Loam Dryad. I tried out two copies for a run, and was so impressed I moved to the full four.
Loam Dryad has become the best turn 1 play for my build. Casting the Springleaf Drum on legs on the first turn means you can play three threats on turn 2. For example, following the Dryad up with a Blisterpod and Carrion Feeder means you can have a 2/2 Feeder, then tap the Eldrazi Scion with Dryad and sac it to also play a 2-drop. Loam Dryad turns all your threats into potential mana while becoming a point of damage (or two) later in the game.
I also changed the mana base to feature more untapped lands. Jungle Hollow is a fantastic card but having one be your first land drop slows you down too much. This deck does not have any double-color requirement cards, so untapped mana is paramount. The two Golgari Rot Farms are a concession to some sideboard 4-drops, but if those did not exist I could see going with a straight basic land mana base.
All of this led me to this current build:
1 Ash Barrens 2 Golgari Rot Farm 8 Forest 8 Swamp 3 Blisterpod 4 Carrion Feeder 4 Loam Dryad 4 Mortician Beetle 4 Young Wolf 3 Bloodthrone Vampire 2 Brindle Shoat 4 Nest Invader 2 Pit Keeper 3 Sultai Emissary 1 Nantuko Husk 2 Tragic Slip 3 Lead the Stampede 2 Rancor Sideboard 3 Plagued Rusalka 1 Festercreep 3 Mesmeric Fiend 2 Falkenrath Noble 1 Slum Reaper 2 Aerial Volley 2 Life Goes On 1 Vampiric Link
While Pauper may not have Zulaport Cutthroat it does have Falkenrath Noble. Sitting at 4 mana, the cost is prohibitive enough that I do not want any copies in the main as it can clog up your hand. You want it in aggressive mirrors or in matchups that are looking to go very long. There you can craft a game state where a resolved Noble can end the game in a flurry of dead creatures.
Like our core 60, the sideboard is also biased towards creatures. Plagued Rusalka is there to help pick off small creatures repeatedly. I wanted the repetitive nature of Rusalka over the more consistent Fume Spitter, but could envision metagames where the inverse is true. Mesmeric Fiend is the best possible Thoughtseize in this deck since you can use the stack to exile the card forever.
Once you cast Mesmeric Fiend you can hold priority and sacrifice it. The outcome is that the leaves play trigger resolves before the enters-the-battlefield trigger, resulting in a Castigate. Festercreep replaces Shrivel since one of them can be found with Lead the Stampede.
I have been having a ton of fun with Golgari Aristocrats. The deck attacks from a unique angle and there are definitely avenues for customization. Butcher Ghoul and Doomed Dissenter are both viable options, as is Feral Prowler. You could even opt for a slower build with Falkenrath Noble main, or try to enable Project X with Ivy Lane Denizen and Safehold Elite. As for me? I’m going to be feeding my Carrion Feeder and Mortician Beetle, and smashing face for the next foreseeable future.