Pauper moves slowly. For many years, white decks were built around leveraging Kor Skyfisher, but recently the color has shifted focus to Palace Sentinels. Black saw a move away from Chittering Rats and in the direction of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. These are approximations, but they serve to illustrate a point that in Pauper each color has something to build towards and build around. For green, that card has been Rancor. And no Rancor deck in Pauper has the pedigree that Stompy does.
Rancor came to Pauper before Urza’s Legacy did. Due to a quirk in the Magic Online release schedule, the card first entered the format with Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana, alongside Serrated Arrows. Until that time, green aggressive decks lacked any way to punch through. Rancor changed all that and provided green with reach via trample damage. One of the earliest adopters of Stompy was ghweiss (on Magic Online) but the player who put up multiple early results in challenges is still active today: deluxeicoff.
deluxicoffe, circa 2011
Stompy decks have always been low-to-the-ground aggressive builds. The earliest version of the deck had a distinct aggro-control feel with Gather Courage and Vines of Vastwood serving as counters to removal—this was before Diabolic Edict and Chainer’s Edict were available. The fact that these doubled as a way to close out games helped to provide the former elusive reach.
These earliest builds were also fairly adept at board control. Using a combination of Quirion Ranger (to untap opposing blockers) and Shinen of Life’s Roar, Stompy could craft a turn where it would crash in for damage unabated. While the Shinen has fallen out of favor, Quirion Ranger continues to be a key card in the archetype.
Over the years, Stompy has had to shift its focus to being a purely aggressive deck. The nature of removal shifted such that Gather Courage no longer served as a way to reliably save a creature and with the advent of Chainer’s Edict, the deck had to adopt more resilient threats—Young Wolf and Nest Invader are very common. Burning-Tree Emissary gave the deck a stellar turn-2 play that could generate a massive board early. Vault Skirge was already popular before Burning-Tree hit the scene, but the fact that it made use of the red mana from Modern Masters 2017 by way of Gatecrash has made it nearly mandatory. Given that Stompy is also far from the fastest deck in the format these days, the lifelink helps quite a bit.
_DssonancE_, 1st place at August 26, 2018 Pauper Challenge
After Burning-Tree Emissary made its way to common, Stompy was widely considered to be one of the best decks in the format. Yet in the intervening months it has all but disappeared from the top of the challenge metagame. The format has grown increasingly hostile to aggro decks without a way to attack a life total outside of turning creatures sideways.
First let’s talk about the change in removal. Chainer’s Edict has made relying on a single threat that much more difficult. But that’s not all. Since Stompy first hit the scene Pauper has seen the introduction of Galvanic Blast and the widespread adoption of Skred. That puts additional pressure on Silhana Ledgewalker as well as Vines of Vastwood.
Skred is a massive nail in the coffin. One of the reasons to play Stompy, for many years, was its strong matchup against Delver of Secrets decks. Those decks leaned on the tempo advantage from Spellstutter Sprite to advance their board state but traditionally had a hard time dealing with permanents. Stompy, with its cheap threats, could easily overwhelm the counter suite for a turn and stick a threat—the green deck had more threats than the blue deck had answers. Combined with access to Scattershot Archer in the sideboard—a machine gun for flyers when paired with Quirion Ranger—and Delver didn’t stand a chance. Until it could run Lightning Bolt and Skred. What went from a great pairing for Stompy was relegated to a coin flip. The needle moving on that matchup has helped contribute to a hostile field for the green machine.
Pauper has also evolved into a place where people are actually prepared for combat. Augur of Bolas and Palace Sentinels are both excellent blockers that have been around for the same amount of time as Burning-Tree Emissary. Palace Sentinels is the more important card here because it ushered in the era of Prismatic Strands. Strands has been legal for the entirety of sanctioned Pauper on Magic Online but it has only caught on in the past year. The ability to turn off the combat phase for two turns, all while maintaining the Monarch, is the key to certain archetypes.
The popularity of Palace Sentinels decks also meant the widespread adoption of Standard Bearer as a sideboard card. It, along with Coalition Honor Guard, makes it very difficult for Stompy to enact their game plan. With either of these on the battlefield, all of Stompy’s pump spells have to be directed at the flag bearer. While Epic Confrontation might be enough to take out a Standard Bearer, it has a harder time against the Honor Guard, and if there’s a Prismatic Strands in the graveyard, then the fight spells are largely useless.
Prismatic Strands was only the tip of the iceberg. Fog effects—namely Moment’s Peace and Tangle—started to show up more often in decks utilizing the Tron mana engine to enact late game locks. Dinrova Horror and Stonehorn Dignitary lock decks lean on these effects to buy the time needed to establish their loops. Heck, Stonehorn Dignitary shuts down Stompy full stop. When you are trying to play fair and the deck on the other side of the table is taking away your avenue to victory, even a Viridian Longbow won’t save you.
Stompy, as an archetype, has suffered a lot in the past year. Delver decks now run removal and can pick off threats at will, there are creatures with big butts that are good at absorbing damage, and Fogs are everywhere. Rancor is not sealing the deal like it used to do with impunity. I would wager to say that at some point between 2017 and 2018, Stompy shifted from being a Rancor deck to being a Burning-Tree Emissary deck. Which leads us to this deck, which is probably the best aggressive strategy in the format currently.
Red Deck Wins
Antillectual, Top 8 at October 14 Pauper Challenge
Red Deck Wins exists because it is good against Chainer’s Edict and Journey to Nowhere. The sheer number of creatures with haste laugh at sorcery speed removal. While the deck lacks the ability to boost a creatures size in combat, it more than makes up for that in the ability to point burn spells at the opponent’s face. Stompy used to run two spells that could deal 4 extra damage in Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood. But you know what’s better than those? A Fireblast that doesn’t care about Moment’s Peace. Speaking of that, red means that you can play Flaring Pain, which does a fine job of stealing wins against preventative measures.
What will it take for Stompy to reassert itself? I’m not sure. The deck hasn’t lost a step—it’s just that every other deck is running a different race. The key may be in Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. If green gets access to efficient creatures with this ability it might be able to mount a comeback. In the interim, trade your Hunger of the Howlpacks for some Reckless Abandon.