As paper play returns in earnest, larger Pauper tournaments will follow. Already there are reports of the latest Paupergeddon out of Italy at 600 registered competitors. This is awesome to see and it warms my jaded New York heart to see so many people brought together through Magic. However, there is an element to the Pauper metagame that can sometimes be overlooked.
The vast majority of Pauper metagame data is generated from Magic Online. The program is not without its flaws, specifically when it comes to large or unbound loops. Due to the nature of the client, a game clock is necessary and these loops, while they could reasonably end a game, have to be clicked through in order to secure victory. This can eat up a lot of clock time, to say nothing of causing physical distress on the person enacting the combo. So decks of this stripe can often be underrepresented. Today, I want to talk about a few interactions that could be more prevalent in tabletop play.
An aside: there was a time in my life where I would force my opponent to go through the motions, even if I were completely out of the game. Now, unless my opponent has been rude (which is thankfully rare) I ask them to show me the spout – their win condition – and I’ll concede. You never know what the situation is on the other side of the screen and if they have the win, they have the win. Now I’m not saying this is the only way to do things and the clock is absolutely an element of Magic Online, but it is something I consider.
How could I start anywhere other than Tortured Existence? One of Pauper’s true single card engines, Tortured Existence has fallen out of favor on Magic Online due to how much clock it can eat up. One key line of play with the deck is looping two Golgari Brownscales in order to gain two life on each iteration. Each of these loops puts two triggers on the stack and considering how important gaining life is in the current metagame, this can chew up a ton of clock time. These loops get easier to execute in tabletop play where you can simply use tournament approved shortcuts – “I have X black mana so I’ll do this loop X times and gain 2X life” – to save time.
So what does Tortured Existence do? There are a wide array of these decks, starting with some more aggressive builds featuring Wild Mongrel and Vampire Hound to more controlling builds that try to stall combat with Spore Frog and slowly peel away options with Thoughtpicker Witch. Most builds have access to Crypt Rats as a way to reset and a game-ending threat like Gurmag Angler as a way to close out (although these may not be as needed with physical cards).
If you’re already packing graveyard removal then you’re already set to handle Tortured Existence decks. While these decks can survive one or two instances of Bojuka Bog, they tend to struggle against persistent targeting of the graveyard.
There is another variation of this combo which pairs Ivy Lane Denizen and either Safehold Elite or Rendclaw Trow to negate the -1/-1 counter. The Ivy Lane version needs a separate sacrifice outlet, like Viscera Seer, and a way to win the game, like Falkenrath Noble. This strategy is far more fragile than the Rakdos build but has cropped up from time to time.
Like Tortured Existence, these decks are susceptible to graveyard hate. They can also be hindered by removing a key combo piece at an inopportune time – such as killing the Persist creature before the First Day of Class or Ivy Lane Denizen trigger can be placed on it, starting the loop again.
Ghostly Flicker Loops
These decks do show up in earnest on Magic Online, but given their strength, these decks should see more play. Both Flicker Tron and Azorius Familiars are powerhouses but are held back due to the amount of time and clicks needed for each iteration of the Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall or Archaeomancer. The results are decks that sometimes have to make concessions to the dreaded clock instead of going for an optimal build.
Flicker Tron is a deck that has multiple ways to end the game but some of the cleanest ways include Compulsive Research targeting the opponent or Compelling Argument doing the same. Some builds can even endlessly loop a single Lightning Bolt to reduce a life total to zero instead of a library.
Azorius Familiars is another deck built on the back of looping Ghostly Flicker through Archaeomancer. Like Tron, it can also win via milling with Deep Analysis aimed at the opponent and the builds that feature Sage’s Row Denizen are usually a concession to the limitations of Magic Online. There are also versions of the deck that can generate an unbound amount of Treasures with Prosperous Pirates which in turn powers up the rest of the deck.
In case you’re sensing a theme, these decks can also be dinged by graveyard removal. Tron needs to be hit early and hard with not just removing the graveyard, but also pressuring the life total. Azorius Familiars needs a similar approach but is also susceptible to mana denial strategies.
These are just some of the strategies that have a chance to show up in earnest at tabletop events. What decks did I miss? Which brews always show up at your local tournaments?