After my recent experiment with Blue-White Control bore minimal fruit, I wanted to try something different, like winning. One of the issues with Blue-White Control was that it had a line of play that had a high correlation to winning the game. When a format includes blind-flipping Delver of Secrets, attacking for lethal on turn 2 with an Inside Out Tireless Tribe, or casting three copies of Burning-Tree Emissary on turn 2, trying to play fair is the Denali of uphill tasks. Instead, I wanted to be the one who could apply pressure and maybe get some free wins.
Looking over the recent spat of Challenge results I opted to try something outside of my wheelhouse. My affection for white creature decks is well known, but Heroic—a deck based on Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Ethereal Armor—is too gimmicky for my taste. It’s not that the deck is bad, just that it is all-in on its first three draws. When other decks are assembling Tron in those same turns, having to spend 5 total mana on an 8-power creature that many never deal another point of damage is not my idea of a good time. No, I went to the world of Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops and picked up an Izzet Blitz deck that, fittingly, blitzed through the July 29 Challenge, going undefeated in the Swiss and in the Top 8. A perfect 10 (and 0).
Amoras27, 1st place at the July 29 Pauper Challenge
Izzet Blitz has been around, in some way shape or form, since Eventide. The ancestor to this deck used Wee Dragonauts, Riverfall Mimic, and Clout of the Dominus to apply pressure. Often seen as a fun option, it never found a foothold once Pauper took a turn toward competition on Magic Online. This changed somewhat with the release of Rise of the Eldrazi, which gave the deck another payoff in the form of Kiln Fiend. Now there were two reasonable threats that turned cantrips into damage.
The deck continued to lurk around the fringes of the format as cards for the archetype piled up. Rise also provided Distortion Strike while Scars of Mirrodin Block gave us both Assault Strobe and Apostle’s Blessing. When Dragon’s Maze hit the scene and dropped Nivix Cyclops, the deck finally had a threat that could replace Wee Dragonauts.
Nivix Cyclops had two major advantages over the original beater. First, it could survive Lightning Bolt on its own. Second, the bonus on attack was increased by one point. When every instant or sorcery cast is converted into damage, any bonus counts. Whereas Wee Dragonauts got a Thunder Strike bonus the Cylcops gets to cast Seething Anger (like Kiln Fiend). The deck became more and more streamlined, eventually adding Delver of Secrets as a 1-drop that played nicely with spells and could apply pressure.
The deck dwelled just outside the top of the competitive ranks until Fate Reforged came and gifted Pauper with Temur Battle Rage. This single card vaulted Izzet Blitz from a gimmick to the real deal. With either payoff creature on the battlefield, casting Temur Battle Rage meant that you were ferocious and got the bonus—not just double strike but trample. The threshold number of spells for lethal damage was halved and making a creature unblockable no longer a priority. Now simply being able to protect the threat midcombat was enough, as the offending creature could crunch through for quite a bit.
Modern Masters 2017 added another wrinkle in Augur of Bolas. Augur made it easier for the deck to find its best spell in Gush. Augur took over the Delver of Secrets slot and made the deck a turn slower. I think that both options—Augur and Delver—are viable in different metagames and with different deck constructions. If you are content to play a slightly longer game, then Augur of Bolas is correct as it gives you more chances to set up a combo turn. If I am running Augur I want more hard counters—like Dispel—main. Conversely, Delver of Secrets performs better in metagames where Izzet Blitz wants to win as fast as possible. The potential for additional damage wins out. In these builds I prefer to run Daze. Daze has the advantage of protecting a turn-2 Kiln Fiend, something Dispel cannot accomplish without the help of a Simian Spirit Guide or a Lotus Petal.
Izzet Blitz belongs to the Gush family of Pauper decks. There are two distinct branches of Gush decks: Delver decks and combo decks. Delver builds include the mono-blue, Izzet, and Dimir style. These are tempo decks that want to protect an early threat and press their advantage with counters and disruption. Gush combo decks want to leverage the powerful spell into raw cards that can then be converted into a game-ending turn. Tireless Tribe Combo uses Inside Out to then discard cards for damage. Izzet Blitz needs to cast a similar number of spells and has the advantage of running red. Red gives the deck access to removal in the form of Lightning Bolt and powerful sideboard options like Electrickery and Pyroblast.
Gush combo decks hinge on the strength of powerful blue cards. Beyond Gush Izzet Blitz runs Ponder and Preordain. These cards not only dig you to key components in the early game but actively help you win the game on your kill turn. Brainstorm also sees play thanks to the deck running some number of Evolving Wilds. The ability to see a large number of cards makes it easier to find the right ones and enter a lethal combat phase.
After a few League runs, here is the list I have settled on. I have been very happy running this and would recommend it for metagames where you are trying to race other decks to the finish line.
My changes to Amoras27’s list are minimal. I cut a Lightning Bolt because I found myself siding it out often. This may be because I kept facing decks where it didn’t matter but even in matchups where it was good, I often found it extraneous. I also cut a Mutagenic Growth because as good as the free spell was, I found the League metagame to be rather aggressive. I added another Island to make it easier to keep my opening hand and a Distortion Strike to help push through damage.
Delver of Secrets is incredibly important right now. The ability to flip and soften their life total early makes the rest of the game plan that much easier. Delver builds are designed to race, and as such inform a few other card choices. Mutagenic Growth is a fantastic card that not only helps to pump your dynamic duo but also protects them from some of the more commonly played removal spells in the format. Mutagenic Growth also has the benefit of giving Insectile Aberration 5 power, which is more than enough to turn on the rider on Temur Battle Rage. This matters in sideboard games where some players will bring in a Circle of Protection: Red to stop your assault.
Apostle’s Blessing is another one of these two-way cards. It can protect your threats from removal but it has another mode—getting you through blockers. So many Pauper decks are monochromatic and since protection also includes “can’t be blocked by” you can all but ensure that you’re going to get through.
I am a fan of Distortion Strike as another way to bypass blockers. While it does not have the additional mode of saving your creature, it does save you mana. The advantage of Strike is in its rebound—you can cast it the turn before your kill turn and get in for some damage. On your upkeep it gets recast, triggering whatever payoffs you have on the table, and eases the load on your mana for the victory formation. There are plenty of other options for this slot, including Shadow Rift and Artful Dodge. If I were to run another one it would be Shadow Rift for a few reasons. First, it’s a cantrip. Second, if you have multiple attackers and they only have one blocker, you can Shadow Rift their creature to make it unable to block any of yours. While this is an edge case, it can matter in games where you are choked on spells but heavy on creatures.
Dispel and Daze represent pure defensive spells. While other cards might be better, these have the advantage of being cheap and functional during the final attack. Daze does not get the respect it deserves as a free counterspell. The ability to protect a turn-2 Kiln Fiend or to pump it during the key turn in defense is huge. Daze also opens up lines where you Daze your own spell and pay for it to get lethal. Dispel is just a cheap card that stops most cards that interact with you during combat.
The split on Gitaxian Probe and Brainstorm can fluctuate. Gitaxian Probe provides perfect information. When you’re running what amounts to a fragile combo deck, this is a good thing. Brainstorm is not the powerhouse it is in other formats but it is still incredibly good. Being able to Gush into Brainstorm, putting back two Islands, then shuffle them away either with Ponder or Evolving Wilds, is quite the play. Brainstorm can also help to flip Delver of Secrets (by casting it on your upkeep) and protect key cards from Duress and its ilk.
Lightning Bolt and Vapor Snag are cheap, interactive pieces. They are in the deck to remove blockers but, like so many other cards in this build, serve additional purposes. Lightning Bolt can still deal 3 to the face and with the correct creatures on the board represents far more than 3 damage. Vapor Snag can remove a Gurmag Angler or a Palace Sentinels while also pumping the team and dealing an extra point of damage. There are metagames out there where additional copies of either are correct. There are also times where you want neither and instead may want Piracy Charm or Gut Shot instead. Heck, sometimes you’re going to want Flame Slash.
The sideboard for Izzet Blitz is fairly mutable. Outside of the Pyroblast–Hydroblast duo, everything else can rotate. Why that duo? Because Pyroblast is incredible against the format at large and Hydroblast has utility outside of the Burn matchup, mostly against Affinity and in the mirror. This build sees plenty of cards, so the single Relic of Progenitus and Gorilla Shaman do work in the correct matchups. Flaring Pain is often your best card in games 2 and 3 to the point where a second copy might be warranted, even with all the looks. Without it you have a hard time beating Moment’s Peace or Circle of Protection: Red. Electrickery helps to contain swarms and tokens. Two more Dispel come in to help fight counter wars. You have additional pieces of interaction in an extra copy of Lightning Bolt and Vapor Snag.
The final card is Outwit. The natural predator of this deck is Chainer’s Edict. Currently Edict is not a popular choice—if it were, I probably wouldn’t be as high on this deck as I currently am. Outwit can stop the first Edict, which is often all you need to do. It also has the advantage of countering Fling, Celestial Flare, or Duress. If decks like Mono-Black Control see a serious uptick I could see finding space for Goblin Instigator, Krenko’s Command, or Stormbound Geist as a way to eat removal spells.
Pauper used to have storm decks. Cantrips and rituals would fuel two copies of Grapeshot or a single massive Empty the Warrens. When those cards got banned, it took quite some time for a new combo deck to take hold. Izzet Blitz is not a storm deck, but it can resemble one. Cheap cantrips are abundant and while the deck runs zero copies of Rite of Flame, Gush is quite good at generating mana. The game-ending mechanism might look different but the result is the same: I’m going to cast a bunch of spells and you’re going to lose the game.