This is an article about Monastery Swiftspear.
But in reality, it’s an article about Deadly Dispute and the Modern Horizons Bridges. These cards have helped to push Affinity to the height of Pauper. Despite being the target of numerous bans, Affinity continues to be one of the best options thanks to its resilience, cheap threats and amazing card advantage. Prior to 2021, there was risk associated with running the deck thanks to Gorilla Shaman destroying its mana base with relative ease. Now that the risk is removed, Affinity can run over opponents with nary a care.
Affinity is the heir apparent to Tron in that it can do whatever it wants with its mana base and largely get away with it. Since the lands are not vulnerable, cards like Galvanic Blast and Thoughtcast approach being free inclusions. The abundance of material available means Deadly Dispute has almost no real cost and the Treasure token, combined with Chromatic Star, means Affinity can run all the best sideboard cards. It gets away with this in part because its threats are not color gated – Myr Enforcer rarely costs anything and Gurmag Angler can come down for a single black. Sure, some builds may run Gearseeker Serpent, but it’s hardly mandatory these days. To top this all off, Affinity can reload with Blood Fountain and has the tools to blunt assaults with Krark-Clan Shaman.
If there is a weakness in the fortress that is Affinity, it’s that it has to take the first few turns off to set up for turn three and beyond. This usually involves a tap land on turn one into an Ichor Wellspring to prime Affinity for a big turn three.
So now we can talk about Monastery Swiftspear. To say Affinity has been public enemy number one for much of the past year would be an understatement. The deck is powerful, resilient and can adapt to nearly anything the meta can throw its way. While it never actually plays from behind, it can be vulnerable in the earliest turns of the game.
Monastery Swiftspear is a card that promotes strategies that can take advantage of Affinity’s developing turns to put the hurt on the machine. A turn one Swiftspear can easily be followed up either with Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning or a Kiln Fiend and Mutagenic Growth to apply maximum pressure. Monastery Swiftspear itself will not win the game, but rather it represents a deck that can get far enough ahead to try and end the game with burn spells before the machine menace can establish a presence on the table.
Pauper Prowess by Alex Ullman
Here is where I would start with a Monastery Swiftspear–Kiln Fiend deck. These strategies were picking up steam before Double Masters 2022 due to their ability to win from seemingly nowhere. It’s not hard to chain together enough spells and end with Temur Battle Rage for lethal damage. With Swiftspear in the fold, it makes sense to look at cards like Crash Through to help push through those final few points even without Temur Battle Rage. Lava Dart is not winning any Lightning Bolt impersonation contests but it does a lot to pump the team and Fireblast is great at closing games. Mutagenic Growth might be the most important card in this deck (and many others) moving forward as it helps to get your team out of Fiery Cannonade/Breath Weapon range.
Before I continue, I want to return to the issue of Affinity. That Monastery Swiftspear has been seen by some as a way to subvert the machine menace indicates that the best way to win in the current metagame is to go as fast as possible so Affinity cannot reach stability and turn the corner. That there is no real effective counterplay to Affinity means that you either have to race or hope they have a mediocre draw.
Red decks are a known quantity in Pauper and cards like Weather the Storm and Lone Missionary see plenty of play. Some players go so far as to jam their deck full of Radiant Fountains in an effort to survive long enough against Thermo-Alchemist and its ilk. Might of Old Krosa normally would care about this except when it’s targeting a Glistener Elf.
Infect has been a fringe strategy in Pauper since Invigorate was banned for providing too many turn two kills. Might of Old Krosa is not Invigorate, but it does a decent job filling that void. Backing up Glistener Elf are Blight Mamba and Ichorclaw Myr – hardly the all-stars from Legacy and Modern Infect. Blighted Agent exists but the mana is a limiting factor here. Green provides protection in the form of Snakeskin Veil and Vines of Vastwood and pump in Rancor, Massive Might, Seal of Strength and too many others to name.
Pauper Infect by Alex Ullman
Infect in Pauper is hardly the threat it is in other formats. The lack of Inkmoth Nexus means that the deck is not nearly as resilient. It has to get there on its fragile creatures. Looking at the strength of removal in Pauper, from Lightning Bolt to Skred to Cast Down to Gut Shot to Diabolic Edict (you get the idea), it is challenging to keep small creatures alive. All that being said, trying to sidestep Weather the Storm could be wise in the earliest days of Monastery Swiftspears attempt at format dominance.
Experiment One has a few advantages over some of the other aggressive strategies discussed to this point. It can grow out of sweeper range while also protecting itself with regeneration. It does have a mountain to summit, however, as green aggro has been struggling as of late. Unlike red-based aggro, green lacks reach that can go directly at an opponent’s life total. Cards like Groundswell and yes, Might of Old Krosa, are fantastic on rate but they require a creature to function. Experiment One would require rethinking how green aggro is built, prioritizing cards like Garruk’s Companion, Slaughterhorn and maybe even Simian Grunts or Acridian in order to evolve the Experiment. A card like Bayou Groff would be great in these decks if they have material laying around to feed the hound. Still, unlike the other decks discussed today, this deck does not try to side step the rules of Magic in order to win and as a result might struggle.
Pauper is likely to see a shift in the coming weeks with early creatures becoming more important than turn three 4/4s. The result is that cheap removal that is guaranteed to hit a Monastery Swiftspear are about to become far more important. Cards like Innocent Blood and Bone Shards go up in value while Snuff Out remains an all star. It is possible that Vendetta sees its stock rise as well but given how high some toughness stats could be, that could prove problematic. No matter what it appears that, for the time being, Pauper is going to be a format where the first turns of the game are jam packed with decisions, action and creatures turning sideways.