The downshift of Monastery Swiftspear in Double Masters 2022 immediately led to a resurgence of red decks in Pauper. Initially, the Khans of Tarkir standout found a home in traditional Burn and Mono-Red Blitz – a Kiln Fiend deck that chained cheap spells together to end the game with Temur Battle Rage. Lately, however, Swiftspear has been tearing up Pauper in a slightly different shell that takes elements from different flavors of red and mashes it together into one impressive package.
Pauper Kuldotha Red by Rudberg
The Game Plan
Kuldotha Red is absolutely a red deck, but unlike Burn or Blitz, it has some real card advantage capabilities. The deck centers on leveraging Monastery Swiftspear and cheap spells to pump out plenty of damage, but it also has another one mana spell that can deal way more than three damage in Kuldotha Rebirth.
Kuldotha Rebirth has seen fairly consistent play since it was released way back in Scars of Mirrodin as the opportunity to exchange two cards for three tokens is well worth the cost. The spice comes in breaking the sacrifice clause with cards like Ichor Wellspring and more recently Experimental Synthesizer. It is this card – the Synthesizer – that has helped push this style of red deck to the forefront of Pauper. The builds started by running Synthesizer alongside Great Furnace, Voldaren Epicure and Chromatic Star to provide enough fodder for Kuldotha Rebirth. Each of these either replace themselves or don’t actually cost a card in the case of Epicure or Great Furnace. In return, the deck gets three Goblin tokens, which tend to be worth at least three damage but more often the card gets in for five or six points.
Why is this relevant? Red decks tend to operate on the Philosophy of Fire – a principle where each card has to be worth around three damage. This creates redundancy and provides red decks with the clock needed to end the game before other decks’ engines can come online. Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning make an appearance here as the Platonic ideal of red efficiency. The deck also runs enough artifacts to add Galvanic Blast to the mix, one of the few cards that can outperform Lightning Bolt. But then there’s Kuldotha Rebirth, which trades a single card of value for at least three damage, if not more.
And the deck needs Kuldotha Rebirth to make up for some of this “air.” While Chromatic Star has been replaced with Implement of Combustion – which can deal damage – there are plenty of cards in the deck that are mostly there to replace themselves or fuel Monastery Swiftspear. In this regard, Kuldotha Red plays akin to a combo-burn deck that needs Swiftspear to make its spells operate at optimal rate.
How Does It Play?
The deck tends to play out one of two ways. The first is a slightly slower draw that leads with Voldaren Epicure. These games tend to start a bit slower, looking to build metalcraft for Galvanic Blast before turning the corner with Swiftspear and piling on the damage with the Monk or Kessig Flamebreather. The other way is leading on Swfitspear and then chaining together spell after spell to continue applying pressure while also developing a board with cards like Epicure or Rebirth. The list above runs a copy of Goblin Bushwhacker as a way to win from nowhere but it is by no means necessary.
The various card replacing artifacts and Reckless Impulse gives this deck some serious staying power in the mid and late game. Unlike Burn, this deck can actually draw cards. Experimental Synthesizer is a heck of a card and can cash itself in for another two points of power. Unlike previous iterations of red decks, it’s extremely difficult to run Kuldotha Red out of cards. This, combined with the fact that it can put the screws to the opponent in the early game, means that the format has had to adjust in some pretty significant ways to combat the deck.
Unlike Burn, Kuldotha Red cannot win on spells alone and needs to attack to get the job done. This means that cards like Moment’s Peace are not without merit against the strategy. The lack of Temur Battle Rage means that the deck can be blocked more effectively to absorb damage, which gives cards like Dawnbringer Cleric a home as a way to not only buff a life total but also eat some tokens. Because Kuldotha Red plays to the board more than going directly at an opponent’s life total, its assault can be mitigated by playing out blockers.
There are other cards that have not yet caught on that may be of use against the deck as well. Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant might not put the game out of reach, but they can provide some salve provided they do not eat a Lava Dart. To that end, Arashin Cleric might be a more resilient call. Moment of Craving is never going to be the best removal spell in the format, but it might just do enough to staunch the bleeding. To fight Kuldotha Red, decks need to have a better defensive speed that also protects their life total.
Looking to The Brothers’ War
Looking ahead to The Brothers’ War, Kuldotha Red might make use of Goblin Blast-Runner since it is often sacrificing permanents. And as for ways to fight it, if you can survive to Fog of War, then maybe it might have some play, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.