2019 is going to be a banner year for Pauper. The format has already received Competitive Leagues on Magic Online, had a wildly successful event on Arena, and will be part of the path to the Magic Online Championship. This last road requires earning enough format points in both the Competitive League and the weekly Pauper Challenges. In turn, this qualifies players for a playoff and then a Pauper Championship. Two decks have emerged at the top of the heap since the introduction of Ultimate Masters, and an old standby has reemerged in an attempt to take the crown for itself.
Nasty, Top 8 at January 6th Pauper Challenge
Dimir Delver is the premier Delver deck in the format at the moment. Using a combination of cheap threats, blue hand sculpting, and free interaction, Dimir Delver gets ahead early and keeps that advantage easily. Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler are some of the best pure offensive creatures available in the history of Magic and see play in formats as powerful as Legacy. What doesn’t see play in Legacy is Gush, because that card is banned.
Gush occupies a unique place in Pauper. On the surface it looks incredibly limiting in deck construction. Unlike formats where it is legal, Pauper has no dual lands with basic land types, meaning that the only way you can use the alternate cost is to return two Islands to your hand. The result is two new cards at the apparent cost of board development. Dimir Delver, and other Gush decks, mitigate this by loading up on cheap threats and interaction. Ideally, Dimir Delver wants four lands in play—three Islands and one Swamp, yet it can operate on fewer Islands if needed. The ability to use Gush to go up cards and potentially generate mana—tap two Islands, return them, then use a land drop to play an Island—is huge as it helps to cast those freshly drawn cards. This does come with a tempo cost but Dimir Delver is built to handle that with Foil, Daze, and Snuff Out. If it comes down early enough, Gurmag Angler does a great job of outclassing every other threat and can end the game in short order.
Foil is an important tool at Dimir Delver’s disposal. The alternate cost on the counterspell is high—pitching an Island and another card is a real cost—but it has some important synergies with the deck. First, Gush conveniently puts an Island and other cards into your hand, so having the correct mix should never be a problem. Second, it acts as a Dark Ritual for Augur of Bolas, putting three cards directly into the graveyard to help fuel the Zombie Fish.
I’ve been playing a fair bit with this deck and I’m not a big fan of Augur of Bolas. While the Modern Masters 2017 downshift is a powerful card, it does not help to press your advantage. Committing mana to Augur is investing in something that doesn’t help to end the game quicker. Instead, I’ve been following the lead of Jsiri84 and using Elusive Spellfist. While it does not find you powerful cards it does convert all those Ponders and Preordains into additional damage. Spellfist lightens the load on Angler and Delver, and can help you to win the game out of nowhere.
Jsiri84, 5-0 in a Competitive Pauper League
Dimir Delver was the top dog for the first few weeks of the season and while it has continued to put up impressive numbers, Boros Bully has supplanted it as of late. An evolution of Boros Monarch, the deck trades the engine Prophetic Prism and Alchemist’s Vial, working with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher for Squadron Hawks and Battle Screech. Instead of trying to see new cards, Boros Bully uses a go-wide strategy supplemented by Rally the Peasants to apply pressure.
Janicestone, 1st place at January 6th Pauper Challenge
Bully is far more proactive than its predecessor. Boros Monarch was content to turtle up and accumulate resources. It would plink in for flying damage until it could end the game in flurry of Lightning Bolts and Galvanic Blast. But it was not as strong of an option in the face of a quick Gurmag Angler that could be backed up with Foil. Small creatures, however, do an excellent job of chumping the big Fish. When paired with a full suite of Journey to Nowhere, you have a deck that can go toe-to-toe with Dimir Delver.
Janicestone has been at the forefront of this archetype since it hit the scene. Their biggest innovation was the inclusion of Seal of Fire. Seal of Fire handles a flipped Delver just fine but it shines against Echoing Decay. Echoing Decay is one of the best ways for Dimir Delver to answer the abundance of tokens produced by Boros Bully. Pointing Seal of Fire at a Bird token or a Squadron Hawk helps to save their brethren. While it is a 2-for-1 for the opponent, it still preserves enough of your team so that a Rally the Peasants is lethal.
Boros Bully runs its own broken card in Faithless Looting. Thanks to an abundance of cards that operate out of the graveyard, Looting is far closer to a draw two in this deck than anything else. It also lets Bully get away with running some situational cards, such as the aforementioned Seal of Fire, since chaff can just be scuffed when not needed. Combine this with access to Pyroblast and you get a deck that is well positioned to fight Dimir Delver and other Gush decks.
The other decks have not up-and-vanished from the Pauper metagame. Boros Monarch still sees play, as do all stripes of Gush decks and a healthy dose of Tron. Yet the top of the heap is increasingly defined by Dimir Delver and Boros Bully. Dimir Delver is a quintessential aggro-control deck in that it attempts to establish a quick threat and then protect it at all costs until the game is won. Bully is a more midrange affair that wants to build up its board and accrue small advantages before snowballing with a massive attack. In order to combat this, an archetype that has been on the fringes has come back strong, with six Top 32 finishes in the past two challenges: Rakdos Monarch.
PR0BOSZCZ, Top 16 at January 6 Pauper Challenge
Thorn of the Black Rose is not nearly as strong as Palace Sentinels since it cannot cast Prismatic Strands. This means that any black-based Monarch deck is locked into running more copies of the card as keeping the crown is paramount. Why? Rakdos Monarch wins by removing every threat. Black and red are the two best colors when it comes to killing creatures, leaving the path clear for its own Gurmag Angler to get the job done.
Lightning Bolt and Chainer’s Edict are format staples. While Lightning Bolt is probably the worst it has ever been at the moment thanks to Battle Screech and Gurmag Angler, it is still a hell of a card. Chainer’s Edict is also in a similar boat if it eats an Augur of Bolas or a token. When paired, however, they help on mop duty. Terminate is one of the best ways to handle a creature if your mana base can support the requirements. The inclusion of Arc Lightning makes Battle Screech less of an issue, provided that Prismatic Strands is not online.
The creature base does leave something to be desired. Liliana’s Specter is fine but it matches up poorly with an impressive number of creatures in the format. Chittering Rats is a former all-star that has held on in mono-black control thanks to fueling Gray Merchant of Asphodel but it seems weaker here. While Duress and Raven’s Crime provide a modicum of disruption, Rats’ stunting ability is less impressive when people are running Brainstorm and Ash Barrens, Gush, and Faithless Looting.
Rakdos Monarch has the tools to compete at its disposal—they just need to be configured correctly. Running Arc Lightning makes sense against the token builds of Boros but struggles mightily when facing down Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher. Still, access to Pyroblast is important at the moment and Rakdos Monarch can easily cast the spell. It is possible this deck wants to adopt some number of Faithless Looting to run more situational cards in the main to help shore up some weaker matchups.
If I were to play in a Pauper Challenge tomorrow, I would be picking up Dimir Delver with Elusive Spellfist, and I would be sure to have a plan for the Bully matchup. If I didn’t, I would almost certainly be testing Rakdos Monarch to see if I could find a mix of creatures that I liked. The good news is that Ravnica Allegiance might be dropping some Rakdos hits in just a few days, giving the deck some new toys. Is it too much to ask for a reasonable value creature?