Last year ended with me discussing various ways to get into Pauper, starting with the current foundations of the format. But going for the tried and true is not for everyone. While the strategies discussed last time are the big players at the moment, there are plenty of other strategies that have found some amount of success. Today I’m going to devote some time to some of the more popular fringe decks in Pauper.
Before we get started I want to take a moment to discuss the Pauper Format Panel. If you have not heard, I, along with five other content creators and Gavin Verhey of Wizards of the Coast, have been tasked with helping to steward Pauper moving forward. I’m grateful for the opportunity to guide the format for the foreseeable future and I hope to ensure a vibrant and enjoyable play experience for many years to come.
Sometimes the best way to beat your opponent is to get them dead before they can find the right answer. This is where Ethereal Armor decks come into play. There are two main decks that lean on Ethereal Armor – Bogles and Heroic. Bogles is similar to the Modern deck of the same name: play Slippery Bogle or Gladecover Scout and put plenty of Auras on it. The deck also runs Utopia Sprawl and Abundant Growth to both fix its mana and increase Armor’s strength. Rancor, Ancestral Mask and Armadillo Cloak also make an appearance. The latest addition is Ram Through which gives the deck actual reach in the face of Stonehorn Dignitary.
Heroic leans on Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Akroan Skyguard instead of creatures with hexproof. Here, Armor is paired with Cartouche of Solidarity, Sentinel’s Eyes and Hyena Umbra to help grow the big beater. Protection effects like Karametra’s Blessing and Emerge Unscathed also help push through damage while warding off removal.
These decks can catch unsuspecting opponent’s unprepared as they tend to require specific answers. Chainer’s Edict can do good work in fighting these decks but is not a catchall. Curfew works as well, but both decks are capable of fighting through these non-targeted effects. Enchantment removal like Leave No Trace or Serene Heart can help to blunt the assault and wreck Bogles’ day, but due to the nature of Heroic, these spells are less effective. Ethereal Armor decks are heavily reliant on the natural flow of cards and as a result can stumble.
Other Options: Kiln Fiend
Kiln Fiend decks also like to “go tall.” Instead of Auras, these decks try to chain together enough spells to turn Kiln Fiend (or Nivix Cyclops or Festival Crasher) into a lethal threat with Temur Battle Rage. These decks are also susceptible to removal but have the advantage of running card draw and filtering. Kiln Fiend decks have seen a resurgence as of late thanks to the printing of Reckless Impulse and Ancestral Anger in Crimson Vow, but have yet to break through in a big way in the Pauper Challenges.
Both Ephemerate and Cleansing Wildfire help to hold up different midrange and control strategies. Ephemerate pairs with Archaeomancer or Ardent Elementalist to turn the graveyard into a toolbox every turn. Cleansing Wildfire combos with the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges to act as a cantrip version of Rampant Growth. These packages can be discrete or overlap.
As these are more engines and less overarching archetypes, they can be difficult to directly target. While Ephemerate engines can be disrupted with graveyard hate, Wildfire decks are mostly playing fair, but doing so a turn faster than they would otherwise. If you’re looking to make an out-there idea work, see if you can fit one of these two (or both!) into the shell.
Whenever powerful black cards are released in Standard, there’s always a hope for the return of Mono-Black Control. In Pauper, Mono-Black Control (or MBC) was a format staple for years, but has since fallen on hard times. It has largely been supplanted by different base black decks that add either red or white, but the concept is the same – play disruptive creatures and use removal to keep the path clear. These decks almost always feature Pestilence as a persistent board wipe. Pestilence is one of the only recurring sources of board advantage in Pauper. The most popular deck running the enchantment pairs it with Guardian of the Guildpact to keep the wipe around.
Pestilence works by keeping threats off the opposing side of the table, sometimes wiping the board on the opponent’s end step only to stick a Guardian and find a suitable vector for the disease. These decks tend to have a decent amount of main deck life gain, sometimes going as far as Pristine Talisman, and are able to run discard spells like Duress and Castigate since they end up dominating the late game with their combo and Bonder’s Ornament.
Like the “go-tall” decks from before, Guardian builds can be weak to Chainer’s Edict and other specific removal. For versions that run more creatures, they can be outpaced with true card draw. Pestilence decks tend to deal in on-board advantage but if the opponent can go over their top, they can struggle.
Creature-based combo can be a potent weapon in a Pauper player’s arsenal. The downshift of Lead the Stampede and the printing of Winding Way pushed both Elves and WonderWalls – an Axebane Guardian-based combo deck – up the power rankings. Both these decks use cheap creatures and their synergies to generate a ton of mana to either spit out more creatures (Elves) or churn through their deck to find game ending threats (WonderWalls). These decks are land light and highly consistent in their game plan.
Like many of the other strategies mentioned today, they can struggle when forced to face off against the proper removal. Elves had always had some issue with sweepers like Electrickery and the printing of Fiery Cannonade added another wrinkle. The deck is not cold to a wipe thanks to Elvish Vanguard, Lys Alana Huntmaster and Timberwatch Elf, but the toughness-based sweepers can do work. Walls, on the other hand, is much better against Cannonade and its ilk. Instead it struggles when key creatures are killed. A well-timed Galvanic Blast on an Overgrown Battlement can ruin their day. In both instances, knowing which creature to kill – Quirion Ranger, Priest of Titania, Battlement or Axebane Guardian – can be key in buying enough time to achieve victory.
One other deck uses these cards and that is Slivers. While not a true combo deck, Slivers can put a ton of power on the board and easily overwhelm defenses. Keeping their board free and clear is paramount as the meathooks can easily snowball. Cast Down is better than Lightning Bolt, but both put in serious work.
Even after all these, there is still some space to explore in Pauper. 2022 could be a good year for the format and I hope you take the take the Pauper plunge.