I’m a fan of Pauper. I’m a fan of wacky, off-the-wall decks. Today’s article fuses both of these wonderful items in a way that is bound to give your Pauper opponents fits!
Life gain is a useful ability in Magic. It changes racing math and is a great countermeasure for opposing decks that throw burn spells to the dome. But it tends to be more of a supplemental strategy. Obviously, a deck full of 45 Healing Salves won’t take you too far…
Martyr is an archetype that has floated around in Magic ever since the namesake card was first printed back in Coldsnap:
The idea is that if you can recur Martyr of Sands repeatedly with a full grip of white cards, then many decks simply cannot deal enough damage to beat the loop. In Standard and Modern, people used this card in concert with Proclamation of Rebirth to gain ‘em up.
Obviously, Proclamation of Rebirth is not a common and thus not an option for a Martyr deck in Pauper, but that hasn’t stopped my good friend Dan Clark from living the life gain dream. Dan is a gamer’s gamer. He’s as much a threat at a poker table or in a “Werewolf” game as he is at the Magic table. He’s even done serious game design. Among the many things I enjoy about Dan, I’ve got mad respect for a person who builds their own decks and tunes them until they become legitimate decks.
Here is the fruit of his labors:
Dan has actually been working on this deck on and off for a long time. I wanted to write about the list sooner, but he wanted to play it in some of the bigger local Pauper events in Michigan before he gave me permission to let it out of the bag!
The basic premise behind the deck is a hybrid of “slow and steady wins the race” and “the best offense is a strong defense.” The deck is kind of like an old-school Chicago Bears team—its defense is so strong that it gives opponents a real problem when it comes to actually mounting an offense that is effective.
It does this by gaining tremendous amounts of life or by taking away the combat step repeatedly with Kami of False Hope.
The deck also has the ability to sweep the board repeatedly via the powerful Crypt Rats.
The deck also has two methods of looping its creatures, which is sort of the point of the deck.
It is convenient that creatures like Martyr of Sands, Crypt Rats, and Kami of False hope all sacrifice themselves in order to generate an effect, because that means that they will automatically trigger Grim Harvest for value. These creatures, especially the ones with instant speed sacrifice abilities, also protect Grim Harvest in the graveyard from graveyard hate such as Relic of Progenitus or Bojuka Bog to ensure that you don’t lose your engine to a Tormod’s Crypt effect.
Once the deck establishes its game, it’s time to turn that defense into offense, but first you’ll want to start generating ridiculous card advantage…
Do you like card advantage?
All of these cards help you churn through your deck and get ahead while the opponent is figuring out how exactly to break through the stalls that you are throwing up in front of them. Eventually, you can win with whatever you have left over, or simply recurring Crypt Rats to burn an opponent out is also an effective way to keep the board clear while leveraging a lopsided life total.
One quick note about the mana:
The deck has a ton of ETB tapped lands. It’s not just a “be as slow as possible” fluff, flavor decision. There is real tension between the deck being mostly base white and needing as much black mana as possible to fuel up Crypt Rats. It’s not too big of a deal, since the deck isn’t trying to curve out and win, and is playing for the late endgame.
Let’s Talk About Matchups
One of the big selling points of this deck is that it actually has a very decent U/R Delver matchup. A lot of people will tell you that their deck “Crushes” Delver, but I think we all know a “Fish Story” when we hear it. Devler is good because it doesn’t have very many “bad matchups.” It does, on the other hand, have good matchups.
Any deck that has a solid chance of defeating Delver and has several other “auto win” matchups is a decent choice in Pauper. If you can hang with the “best and by far most popular deck,” you are doing something right.
Orzhov Martyr really preys on aggressive decks, which fortunately make up a huge percentage of the metagame. Obviously, the Mono-White Life Gain deck is going to have lots of good matchups against people who are one dimensional, favoring aggression.
Burn is pretty easy. I also love the way Martyr randomly has a great matchup against Tireless Tribe, one of the best combo decks in Pauper. Fog on a body can win the game on the spot and even one Martyr activation forces them to go off twice, which is basically a pipe dream.
R/W Monarch is also a very decent matchup. Crypt Rats does a ton of work in the mid game at slaughtering their attackers. Affinity plays out in a similar manner, where if you don’t fall behind early it is pretty easy to come over the top with card advantage and use the life gain/prison elements to systematically eliminate their possible outs.
Life isn’t all easy soft locks and free rolls. The most difficult card to beat is Ulamog’s Crusher.
In a war of attrition it is difficult to answer a giant monster that forces us to sacrifice two permanents every turn. Martyr is set up to win a life total battle, but it is much more difficult to win a one-sided “smokestack” war over resources.
Tron and Reanimator are both difficult simply because they will challenge you with aggressively cast Crushers.
In the same vein, the infinite combo Walls deck is difficult because it operates on a different axis and has an infinite combo.
Time is on my Side, Yes it is! (Wait, No it’s Not…)
The biggest upside of this deck is that it is extremely fun to play and really unique. It’s an experience.
The biggest downside of the deck is that it is slow. Like, really slow. Like, really, really slow. I’m talking a snail trying to go the wrong way on an escalator slow…
Dan has been playeingthe deck on MTGO a ton and he tells me that his online win percentage is significantly higher than IRL. In real life, the deck has a serious issue of going to turns and ending the match in a draw, simply because the games go so long.
It’s funny because he tells me that online, since he can play faster than most opponents, that it typically ends with the opponent timing out. IRL, there is no way to mitigate the fact that the deck takes a long time to actually end the game.
In particular, he said that slow Delver opponents who cast extremely ponderous Ponders and Brainstorms are apt to cause a draw, whereas online these types of deliberate plays will often lead to the Delver player timing out.
One of the biggest problems a deck like this has to overcome in order to ascend in the metagame is the fact that it will lead to draws, especially if it is piloted by a player who isn’t being speedy. On the other hand, it’s just Pauper (not a GP with a large buy in) and so playing something fun and interesting is often worth a few percentage points, in my opinion.
It’s the sort of situation where if you play this deck it becomes necessary to be cognizant of the clock and make sure that you and your opponent are progressing the game at a reasonable pace.
Other than having to worry about going to time, I absolutely love playing this Orzhov Martyr deck. It’s a cool soft-lock, prison deck that has very reasonable matchups across the format and is a real blast to play.
The game plan is to shut the opponent’s attack down and slowly grind them out card after card, turn after turn, until you have everything and they have nothing (it makes me think of “Gladiator Mice”). Seriously, what is more Orzhov than that?