Pauper is a relatively stable format. Despite the regular addition of new cards, the core strategies in the format remain largely the same. Sure, decks might get faster or switch in more recent options for outdated choices, but from a thousand yard view, the overall texture of the format is fairly consistent. Today, I want to talk about a new wrinkle to this texture. Leaning on cards from Phyrexia: All Will Be One that give your opponent poison counters directly, these two decks are a new take on an old favorite.
Infect is a deck that crops up from time to time in Pauper and leans heavily on the combat step. Turn one Glistener Elf is a frightening play, especially when it’s followed by Rancor and Might of Old Krosa. The fact that the deck can sidestep life gain is a big plus, but there are some problems with turning these creatures sideways. The first is that the deck plays along a similar axis to Bogles and as such people are prepared. Many of Infect’s creatures are fragile and can be picked off with one of Pauper’s many sweepers. Going tall does help but then cards like Diabolic Edict can take over. The other major strike against the deck is that it lacks the resiliency of its Modern and Legacy counterparts. There is no Inkmoth Nexus here to sneak in extra threats, no Pendelhaven or Noble Hierarch to add damage. While the mana in Pauper is significantly better than it has been in year’s past, it’s still difficult to squeeze in blue for cards like Preordain or Dispel. There’s also the small fact that Invigorate is banned due to how often it enabled kill on turn two with Glistener Elf.
The decks we’re looking at today are a radically different approach to using poison as a win condition. Instead of leaning on creatures they are trying to do the work with spells that either poison their opponent or proliferate. This approach has been made possible with the advent of Prologue to Phyresis and Experimental Augury. These two cards are serviceable cards in their own right, but when put into the proper shell, start to form the core of a win condition.
Let’s start with this list from the February 25 Pauper Challenge.
Pauper Poison Control by Tweedel
Dimir Control without creatures is not a new concept in Pauper. Previous versions of this deck have opted to splash green for Sprout Swarm, tried to run the opponent out of cards with Devious Cover-Up or Curse of the Bloody Tome, or simply mill them out naturally by running 80 (or more) cards. Poison Control takes a different approach and uses removal like Virulent Wound and Vraska’s Fall, alongside Prologue to Phyresis, to get the party started. From there, the goal is to buy time and chain together spells that proliferate or add poison to the tally. Experimental Augury digs you towards victory while adding to the infection while Infectious Inquiry and Vivisugeon’s Insight can reload your grip.
There are some odd inclusions here. Bring the Ending seems out of place in a format where Counterspell is legal but it could be due to mana considerations. I would also want to see one or two more lands as this is not a deck that can afford to fall behind. Cards like Fuel for the Cause or Mesmerizing Dose might have a home as well as a way to neutralize a threat while adding to the infection.
Despite the novelty, I would worry about the long term prospects of this deck. Pauper is currently a very assertive format. Poison Control spins its wheels early and even if these spins do advance the game plan, the deck could easily find itself buried under the heel of aggressive starts. If you can solve for these starts with early defense, that would go a long way, but considering that the deck needs a density of poison and proliferate to sniff a win, that may be too big of an ask.
Pauper Posion Combo by Hampuse 1
Poison Combo feels far more attainable. Pauper content creator kalikaiz (saiden.raiken on Magic Online) has put a lot of work into this archetype. The idea is to use a variant of Storm Combo architecture in Mercadian Masques depletion lands to power your victory. The lands use depletion counters which can conveniently be proliferated. The deck also uses Pentad Prism and Everflowing Chalice as other repositories of proliferated counters. It runs fewer cards that can directly poison an opponent, leaning on Prologue to Phyresis and Infectious Inquiry, but can run more copies of Vivisurgeon’s Insight thanks to its robust mana engine,.
While I like this build more, it’s significantly more all-in. Stopping the first poison counter can leave the deck wanting for a way to get the ball rolling. Mystical Teachings does mitigate this some but it’s expensive in a combo deck without actual Dark Ritual effects. On the plus side, this deck is more well suited to deal with creatures turning sideways thanks to the four copies of Weather the Storm in the main and three copies of Moment’s Peace in the sideboard.
I do like how this deck is using cards with corrupted in its sideboard. Both Bring the Ending and Anoint with Affliction make sense in Poison Combo as these cards are going to be effective early in their base mode. If the game drags on, they get better and while that helps, if a game has gone on that long, it might spell trouble regardless.
Neither of these decks are poised to upset the Pauper metagame but they do provide a new angle of attack and give players an opportunity to flex both their combo and control muscles. What cards do you think fit into Poison Control? What about the combo build?