Today, I’m excited to showcase the novel build of UR Control for Pauper I’ve been working on and tuning-up over the past week on MTGO. Last week, I immersed myself in playing Pauper for the first time in a while since the banning of Fall From Favor back in mid-January. I enjoyed the experience of brewing and playing my own deck now that some of the dominant new cards have been removed:
Fall From Favor, like Mystic Sanctuary and Arcum’s Astrolabe, are cards that bothered me as a player and fan of Magic because they’re examples of cards so ubiquitously powerful that, within weeks of their initial release, they warped the entire metagame around them and only expanded upon that dominance until the time of their eventual bannings.
Today’s article is going to be a fun and informative one for a couple of reasons. First, I’d like to talk a little bit about the metagame I’ve experienced coming back into the format and restarting from scratch. Second, I’ve put in a ton of reps and worked on a deck that I believe is legitimately sweet and I’m excited to share it with the Pauper community.
My favorite time to play Magic is on the heels of a keystone banning, such as Fall from Favor, because removing a card (or cards) that contribute to a metagame collapsing around a specific strategy opens up entirely new space for players and brewers to once again explore. It’s not just that we no longer have to worry about playing against Fall from Favor every third match, but also that strategies that were suppressed by the dominant deck can return.
It’s crazy how in a pool of thousands of cards, simply adding or subtracting one card changes the relationships between all possible decks.
The first thing I noticed when I started looking for data about the metagame was the most recent sampling I could get from my go-to data site included results from the past two months. It also appears decks containing the now-banned Fall from Favor no longer show up. The reason this matters is half the data in the sample will be dramatically skewed against blue decks (since they all played the now banned FFF) in favor of decks that didn’t play FFF. It’s certainly true that blue decks got worse by virtue of losing their best, most busted card, but it’s unlikely they got that much worse relative to the rest of the field.
The other thing I noticed was that base black decks, according to the observable (but likely inaccurate data) would appear to be the default best performing deck in the format at 14 percent of the Top 8 metagame (exactly twice that of the next best performing deck, Boros, at 7 percent).
Here are the MTGTOP8 metagame numbers for Blue decks in the smallest, two month sample:
- Mono U: 0%
- UB Delver: 3%
- UR Delver: 0%
- UR Control: 6%
- UB Control: 5%
If you just looked at the numbers, it would appear that blue decks are very bad right now. However, I think these numbers reflect data that has been corrupted by removing a huge chunk of blue decks that included Fall from Favor from the two month sample.
According to the sample I’m able to observe, it would suggest basic Swamp decks perform twice as well as basic Island! Anybody who knows me can attest that Mono-Black is my favorite deck to play – it’s my baby. I played it out of spite even when I knew it was outclassed by superior strategies because I enjoy playing it so much. I’ve written multiple articles about tuning MBC to perform optimally in metagames where it was disadvantaged.
My first inclination was to say “Wow, my favorite basic Swamp deck is insane! How lucky is this!” I actually decided not to play Mono-Black because I’ve already written about it a few times in previous level metagames (when it wasn’t the best deck) and the lists that have been doing well are close to the lists I’ve tuned up in the past.
It’s funny how perception can shape reality. I do get the sense that black-based decks are quite Paup-ular and performing well right now, but if the perception is that Mono-Black is the best deck by twice the margin as the next best option, it’s also plausible that more players will select that deck to play based on that misconception.
I counted up the last last 10 events by hand and here’s the picture they paint:
- Black Control: 14
- Black Aggro: 10
- Blue Aggro (Dimir, Izzet, & Mono U): 9
- UR Skred: 6
- Burn: 5
- Boros: 5
- White Weenie: 5
- Affinity: 4
- Four Color Ephemerate: 4
- Green Ramp: 3
- Tron: 3
- Stompy: 2
- Slivers: 2
- Auras Hexproof: 2
- Combo: 2
- Elves: 1
- Aggro and Midrange Swamps: 32%
- Tempo and Midrange Islands: 19%
- Plains, Forests, & Mountains (aggro): 34%
- Combo and Blue Control: 12%
Obviously, 10 reported tournaments don’t represent the entirety of all Magic in the metagame but black decks do appear to be outperforming the field, but not by the margin I see represented in the overall totals.
Are black decks really this good or are these trends a case of “the emperor’s new clothes,” where people naturally gravitate towards what they perceive as the best deck? Swamp decks in all of their various shapes and sizes, control, midrange, BW and aggro, are clearly good and I would know because I did a lot of the work building them over the past year. I’ve always thought Mono-Black was a solid Tier 1.5 strategy that had a lot of play to it in capable hands.
It’s hard to say for sure because perception is limited to what we can see, but it has certainly been my impression as I’ve played against a ton of Black Devotion and Black Aggro over the past week. I’ve played against black decks more than blue decks for the first time that I can remember.
Generally speaking, I’ve approached playing Pauper from the perspective that I want to enjoy it. I don’t like to bandwagon the best deck because it’s easy to do and I enjoy the process of building and refining my own ideas. That is the part of playing Magic as a game that I truly enjoy.
With that said, I took a little break from playing and the observable data suggests my pet Tier 1.5 deck is currently the “deck to beat,” and blue decks are the underdog.
So, let me get this straight – I can jam a sick-o blue deck and be the anti-meta dark horse hero at the same time? These are truly crazy times we live in.
I decided to focus on UR this week for a couple of reasons. The main one was if Mono-Black was the best deck (which I assumed based on the data), I didn’t feel like I had anything more to contribute to the conversation that I haven’t said in previous articles. If the blue decks don’t have some outrageous card like Mystic Sanctuary or Fall from Favor, it could certainly be true that Black based decks can beat on them pretty hard.
I selected UR Control as my deck to work on because it had a respectable 6% share of the Top 8 metagame and it’s filled with cards I like to play. I made a composite UR “Control” deck based on other UR decks that had Top 8’d events to begin my quest:
Pauper Stock UR Ninja Control by Brian DeMars
There’s literally nothing wrong with this UR Ninja deck. It’s totally fine. You could do a lot worse than to simply play this 75, as is. People have played and performed well with nearly identical lists in the past and present and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so into the future. Realistically speaking, it’s probably one of the stronger known decks available at the moment.
I don’t want to split hairs, but I’m not sure I would personally call such a 75 a “control deck,” as it felt pretty fishy to me. Regardless, the defining characteristic of the archetype with regard to builds that performed well is the 16 creature package:
I don’t recall ever putting Flying Men into my control decks (and I really enjoy Flying Men!).
Nonetheless, the deck uses the suite of 16 creatures to generate card advantage in the form of two-for-one’ing people with Spellstutter Sprite or Augur of Bolas. Then, you can pick up these two-for-one creatures with ninjitsu off a Ninja of the Deep Hours to draw extra cards. The deck also plays a lot of targeted removal to move blockers out of the way to ensure these Ninja synergies are able to connect and generate card advantage that ultimately wins the game.
I tried some other things as well, for instance…
Finding space for Frantic Inventory meant shaving creatures. I didn’t find the card to be high enough impact or reliable enough to warrant inclusion at the expense of diminishing the Ninja synergies. I also thought the deck “as is” was soft to all black variants, both controlling-midrange-devotion as well as aggro decks built around undying creatures. As I began to understand how and why my stock UR “control” deck matched up poorly against black decks, I looked for different approaches to shore up its weaknesses.
I’ve spent a ton of time discussing the Pauper metagame, as well as the deck I started with, and there’s so much more I’d like to say about both topics, but I’ve got to get to the point!
Okay, here’s my deck.
Pauper UR Control by Brian DeMars
First, easy observation: the snow dual is nice…
It’s pretty obvious having access to a snow dual is a luxury in an archetype that wants to play Skred and Counterspell. Skred is sort of the reason to play red in a blue shell in my opinion. It gives you a way to answer four-plus toughness creatures at instant speed in a color configuration that realistically shouldn’t be able to.
Lightning Bolt is still a great card (I play four) but Skred allows UR to cover bases no other blue or red card in Pauper can. The snow dual lands are nowhere near Arcum’s Astrolabe in terms of power or quality of fixing but having ETB tapped duals with snow typing takes a lot of pressure off of the mana base.
I’m on the fence about the one Evolving Wilds over the fourth Volatile Fjord there are upsides and downsides to choosing either. I’m playing three Brainstorm and so there’s a lot of value to that extra fetchland shuffle effect, but it’s also true that opening hands like…
…Become a lot less risky when the Evolving Wilds is replaced with a Volatile Fjord because we don’t have to make a choice on the first turn that could potentially lose the game depending upon which random cards we draw. I like the 3-1 split. The previous level UR decks played a 3-1 split and I’m Brainstorming harder than they were. My mana feels nice and smooth and I trust that the hivemind got this configuration correct.
My deck is a little bit weird, so I’m going to walk through the process of how and why I built it and what informs some of my innovative card choices and configurations. In particular, the UR vs basic Swamp matchup was a huge reason I went down the rabbit hole and dramatically altered my build of UR from the stock UR Ninja list.
Swamp is king of the fair decks and, in every perceptible way, the current king of the meta (both in terms of the Top 8 data and what I played against the most on MTGO this week). It wears the monarch crown like an absolute boss. Most of its creatures are two-for-ones and it packs an astounding amount of efficient removal that punishes a UR deck that tries to run its offense and card advantage engine through small Faeries and Ninjas inside the combat step.
The problem with the Ninja deck is that, aside from the synergies that run through its small creatures, the deck cannot generate actual card advantage and therefore is vulnerable to black’s strategy of playing threats that “draw a card” and sandbagging removal to go after UR’s creatures that matter. Essentially, when you line up the decks on paper, both decks have a ton of removal, but Mono-Black has more two-for-ones.
The problem is exacerbated because black is a great monarch deck and the best thing removal can possibly do is to protect the crown to draw more cards! In that sense, the monarch is a lot like a planeswalker because if you can protect it for long enough, it translates to inevitability that wins the game.
The games always felt competitive, but it was clear to me exactly why I was losing: I ran out of cards that mattered before my opponent did.
“There’s other fish in the sea.”
I tried a build that went harder on raw card advantage using Mulldrifters as well as Frantic Inventory and those decks tended to fare better, but ultimately it still boiled down to the dance over who wore the crown last.
I had two Bonder’s Ornament in my collection from when I built Tron a few months back and added them to my deck. It’s certainly a card capable of taking over a game and grinding an opponent into submission. Between my main deck and sideboard, I also tried to prioritize interaction that costs one mana, so I can deploy the Mega Rock and still cast a spell to interact with my opponent on turn three.
The card I would be most likely to add to my 75 would be a third copy of Bonder’s Ornament in lieu of either a Lightning Bolt or Ponder. I would also consider a third Abrade if I was expecting to play against more decks with Bonder’s Ornament. With that said, I haven’t made those changes because I like how my deck is positioned at the moment and it’s been performing extremely well for me against the field as is.
Let’s take a look at what I cut from a “Stock UR Ninja Control” deck to arrive at my UR Control deck.
4 Spellstutter Sprite 4 Faerie Seer 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 1 Dispel 1 Fire/Ice
3 Goblin Wizardry 3 Behold the Multiverse 2 Bonder's Ornament 2 Relic of Progenitus 1 Brainstorm 1 Ponder
Changing 14 main deck cards may not seem like a lot, but it’s literally night and day compared to how the deck functions and matches up against the field. I’m not a fishy Ninja deck with good removal anymore – I’m a hardcore control deck with a combo finish.
The “Eureka!” moment was when I started to look for better options to attack monarch decks with and the option I found was Goblin Wizardry.
I went from a miser’s copy to three pretty quickly and having access to this card as my primary win condition completely changed the play patterns that were available to me.
Different card, but same basic tactic. Control the game for a while and then deploy a threat capable of quickly finishing an opponent off. Instead of having to hit an opponent 10 or more times with small value creatures, these tokens are more than capable of ending a game in one or two focused swings. Goblin Wizardry also puts racing on the table as a viable option even when you start from a lower life total than an opponent because the tokens can chunk so much damage when paired up cheap cantrips or removal.
The prowess tokens are also amazing blockers and extremely difficult for opposing creatures to attack into. I can fire off a couple of removal spells inside of combat and have beefy blockers to eat up 2/2 creatures.
Augur of Bolas can “find” Goblin Wizardry with its ETB trigger, which is a pretty incredible interaction. I have 34 instants and sorceries in my deck (as opposed to the Ninja deck that had 25) which makes the card incredibly consistent.
It’s also cute, and by cute I mean insane, that all of my creatures live through Fiery Cannonade.
It takes a miniscule amount of work to do, but as long as you can play one other spell before firing out “Pirateclasm,” the prowess tokens will survive (which is a really nice way to set up an alpha strike through potential blockers).
It’s much better than it looks and it looks pretty good. The ability to only commit half of the mana up front (while leaving two mana free to interact) is way better than I imagined it would be. In particular, foretelling on turn four while leaving up Counterspell is an incredible play. It also puts a ton of pressure on the opponent to play into your countermagic because they know if they don’t force the counter, you have a great play lined up.
Behold the Multiverse’s foretell ability is also quite good against black decks that bring in Duress, since we can foretell your best draw spell to protect it from discard effects. It’s also something productive to do on turn two if there’s no other relevant play that needs to be made.
These may seem a little loose, but they’re quite important. First of all, my deck is the perfect deck to play Relic because I have zero graveyard synergies that matter. Inversely, all of the decks I consider to be top contenders use their graveyard to great effect. UB Delver has Gurmag Angler, black decks use Witch’s Cottage to rebuy Thorn of the Black Rose, and against Tron and Boros, it’s legitimately one of the best possible cards you can draw.
Second, my sideboard is too important and I can’t afford slots for Relic of Progenitus. When it’s not useful in game one, it cycles, so playing two in the main deck is kind of like having a sideboard with 17 silver bullets.
My build of UR is so good at digging through my library to find specific cards when I need them. I have four Preordain, three Brainstorm, three Ponder, three Behold the Multiverse and four Augur of Bolas. All of these cards allow me to look at least three new cards (Ponder and Multiverse can see four cards). Almost all of my sideboard cards are instants and sorceries because they can be found with Augur of Bolas.
I attack and leverage mana really hard after sideboard, I think the three Stone Rain package gives that away right up front.
I bring these in a lot. The reason I’m playing them in such a copious amount is that there are a lot of opportunities for them to be great. Obviously, they’re good against Tron (especially, since Tron has less redundancy to find it’s specific pieces via Expedition Map). However, the real reason they came on my radar is that I needed cards to help out with the green-ramp-cascade matchup.
The cascade engine is real and, regardless of whether or not they’re using bouncelands or enchanting lands, the best thing you can possibly do against these decks is go after their lands and keep them from getting off the ground for as long as possible. I wish I could play Pillage to have another card for Affinity, but I can’t support the 1RR casting cost on turn three.
I bring in my Stone Rains against controlling black decks as well as Boros Midrange. The primary way these decks beat me is by becoming the monarch before I’m prepared to contest the crown, so delaying them by even a turn can make a huge difference. Crunching an early bounceland against Boros is typically game over. It’s also important to remember these non-blue midrange decks are not padded with filtering cantrips, so destroying lands will often completely hamstring their entire strategy.
Generally, I like Stone Rain against non-blue midrange decks but not aggro decks composed of cheap creatures. So, thumbs up to bringing it in against Mono-Black Devotion but not the Black Aggro Zombie deck. Against the non-blue midrange decks like Black Devotion and Boros, I like to cut Lightning Bolts because they have very few opportunities to trade for a card and you generally don’t win by racing – you win by attrition.
I also like the Stone Rains against Aura Hexproof, which I consider to be UR Control’s worst possible match up. Luckily, it appears that Boggles isn’t a particularly popular choice (which makes sense with black Edicts and Dimir Delver being so popular). The haymaker I want to find against Boggles is Aura Flux, which also heavily taxes their mana.
You have so many dead cards against Boggles already and I like that this mana denial plan is at least coherent enough to give me a fighting chance.
Speaking of mana denial… Gorilla Shaman is my A+ plan against Affinity decks. The goal is to keep them from going off long enough to stick a Shaman and protect it to decimate their board. It’s the best possible card against Affinity and despite not being an Augur “hit,” Mox Monkey earns his keep in the board.
It’s important to play Hydroblast and not Blue Elemental Blast because this list plays prowess creatures. You’re allowed to target a non-red permanent to generate a prowess trigger with the Hydroblasts.
Hydroblast comes in against any mono-red deck (obviously) and I also bring them all in against Atog Affinity. Burn is a tough match up Game 1 but the fast clock of Goblin Wizardry actually gives you a fighting chance to finish them off in time. After sideboard, when you have access to four Hydroblast (and can counter more lethal burn spells as well as answer a resolved Curse of the Pierced Heart), I find the match up to be quite favorable.
I bring these in against any deck playing basic Islands as well as Tron.
A little something extra for aggro decks to round out the sideboard. It’s also extremely good against Elves.
No matter what the matchup is, I have enough relevant cards in the sideboard to bring in.
I’ve been on quite a tear with the 75 the past few days and haven’t made too many changes once I got settled on the core main deck. I will say, it’s a challenging deck to play and sequencing matters a lot, especially in match ups where an opponent’s strategy revolves around becoming the monarch. It’s not always about making the most efficient play, but rather protecting yourself from the things that will be difficult to undo if they go through.
It’s my personal opinion that Counterspell is the best and most powerful card currently legal in Pauper. I can’t quantify that with anything other than my gut feeling, but being able to say “no” at a critical moment that will set the dominos into motion is such a powerful tactic. I tend to value my Counterspells highly and try to avoid using them unless they’re extracting a pound of flesh from my opponent’s strategy.
I’ve even considered playing my own monarch cards in the sideboard as a countermeasure to opposing monarch decks, but like I already stated the sideboard cards are so important that I’d be giving up something that has a lot of value. I wouldn’t say UR Control is a particularly good monarch deck (hence no monarch cards) but I’m prepared to fight over the crown if my opponent wants to put it into play.
On a sentimental note, it’s kind of funny that once again I find myself playing a sweet blue deck that hinges on the ingenuity of extremely smart Goblins!
Vintage Control Slaver and Modern Storm are two Izzet decks that I’ve played and enjoyed a ton over the years. I guess you could say… I’m a fan of…
I have a real “prowess” for playing Goblins in my blue decks!