Strixhaven: School of Mages is a rare bird for Pauper in that it has had an immediate impact on the format. While I had set out this week to talk about Goblin Combo – using Skirk Prospector and Putrid Goblin with First Day of Class – I couldn’t get enough reps in to feel like I understood the deck. Instead, I turned to a deck I’d been working on for a while that got a new toy in Quandrix Pledgemage: Spellfist Delver.
Spellfist Delver is an aggressive slant on a Delver of Secrets decks that wants to leverage a high spell count to pump up creatures like Elusive Spellfist and punch through for burst damage. Quandrix Pledgemage provides the strategy with a high impact three-drop that turns each spell into a permanent point of damage.
Pauper Quandrix Spellfist Delver by Alex Ullman
Quandrix Delver is an aggro-control deck. It wants to stick an early threat and protect it from removal. Unlike traditional Pauper Delver, it eschews Spellstutter Sprite and Counterspell for a lighter counter suite designed to protect its creatures. Relying on Dispel and Foil makes it easier to deploy your creatures while also leaving up defensive measures. Once you have a few attackers on the board the goal should be to either chip in for damage or set up one or two massive burst damage turns with Distortion Strike.
The early game should be spent developing your board position and your hand. Ideally you lead on Delver of Secrets and follow it up with a two-drop, setting up turn three to attack and turn four the play out a Quandrix Pledgemage. After that, the game is about setting up a lethal attack.
Delver might be the best one drop but failing that Ponder or Preordain are a good substitute. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the cantrips are some of the best cards in any format where they’re legal and set you up nicely for the midgame. While you’ll sometimes spend one or two of these early, they’re at their best when you have an Elusive Spellfist or Quandrix Pledgemage on the board, as they not only keep the gas coming, but they also help in applying pressure. Cheap velocity is so valuable in this deck that it’s possible that a single copy of Opt or Thought Scour is correct.
Leaning on Delver of Secrets, Elusive Spellfist and Quandrix Pledgemage as offensive threats and valuing one-mana card draw has led to the inclusion of Of One Mind. The deck was short on non-Humans but between Augur of Bolas and Sky Theater Strix, there are enough creatures of the correct types to regularly enable the discounted Divination. Early builds had a fourth copy but I switched to a single copy of Behold the Multiverse as a way to bait opponent’s on their end step, thereby opening the window to resolve several one mana spells on my own turn.
Snap is the most commonly included bounce spell in Delver decks thanks to its ability to leave open Counterspell mana. Without Counterspell or Spellstutter Sprite, I opted for Vapor Snag. Snag is an incredible offensive weapon that helps to clear a path while dinging the opponent for one. Vapor Snag might be at its best right now with both Bayou Groff and Gurmag Angler seeing heavy play. Distortion Strike fills a similar role except that it comes with a free spell attached. Being able to trigger Spellfist while also getting your Pledgemage through is huge and Strike can help you close the game in two quick hits.
The counterspell suite of Dispel and Foil is there to protect your threats. You aren’t trying to win stack battles as all your creature cards simply care about casting spells, not having them resolve. The only “counter” you want to resolve regularly is Mutagenic Growth. Not only does the Phyrexian mana spell protect your army from Lightning Bolt and its ilk, it also regularly represents three to five damage.
Quandrix Delver tends to mulligan well. While it ideally wants a threat or two in the opener, it can get by without one if it has access to its cantrips. That being said the presence of the cantrips means that it rarely wants to mulligan, as it can easily dig to action. I would avoid keeping hands that contain multiple copies of Quandrix Pledgemage, Of One Mind or no early turn plays.
The most valuable skill when piloting this deck is planning for two turns. Starting on turns three and four, your primary objective should be pushing through damage. Even if you can’t attack on that very turn, you need to be thinking about how to close out the game. While you normally want to save your spells for burst damage turns, if your opponent is low on removal and high on threats, it can be correct to grow your Pledgemage so it can start playing the role of The Abyss before ending the game.
Quandrix Delver is at its best against decks that take time to set up their game plan, but it can hold its own against traditional aggressive strategies. It struggles against hyperlinear decks that can goldfish a victory faster than it can establish threats. While it’ll never be the clock of the format, Quandrix Delver can pivot from “developing” to “victory” quickly, and that closing speed helps to make it a very dangerous deck.
Against linear decks like Burn or Bogles, your goal should be to disrupt them just long enough to win. Burn is slightly easier since Dispel has play against Lightning Bolt and Fireblast. Bogles is tougher but gets better in games two and three thanks to Annul and Echoing Truth. You can also grow a Pledgemage large enough to handle a Bogle with just Ethereal Armor for a little while, but Ancestral Mask can put things out of reach rather quickly.
When squaring off against aggressive decks, you want to balance establishing an offensive presence with staying alive. This often means deploying spells while you are on defense in order to eat their attackers with Elusive Spellfist. Mutagenic Growth can prove its worth here, as it can render combat math a nightmare. I’ll often bring in Gut Shot in these matchups, even if it has relatively few targets as a way to change the math on combat. In these matchups, it’s important to remember that Quandrix Campus can cast Mutagenic Growth, saving your two valuable points of life.
Playing against midrange decks comes down to what removal they have. Quandrix Delver can struggle against both Chainer’s Edict and Journey to Nowhere. However, it’s fast enough to go under Boros Monarch and Jund Cascade, given a slightly better than average draw. Against these decks, you want to commit more threats to the board to try and play around removal.
Other Delver-style decks can prove to be troublesome. They tend to run more countermagic and actual removal. Here, you want to play similarly to midrange decks by running out threats to ensure one sticks. After that, you want to play a traditional aggro-control plan and keep your threats alive until you can attack for the win. Quandrix Pledgemage is your best option here since it tends to get large enough to tussle – just be sure to protect it from Skred and Snuff Out.
Playing against Flicker Tron is all about winning before they can lock you out of the game. Delver of Secrets and Elusive Spellfist are at their best here at applying pressure. Look for every opportunity to sneak through damage and save Dispel for Pulse of Murasa if possible. After turn four, you need to be careful not to walk into a Weather the Storm that’ll absolutely ruin your day.