It’s hard for competitive Pauper to support a combo deck that does not become utterly dominant. The current metagame, with Goblin Combo and WonderWalls, is one of the few I can remember where a combo deck can succeed without being significantly better than every other option. Historically, the opposite has been true. Today, we’ll be taking a look at a new card from Modern Horizons 2 that could upset the balance – Chatterstorm.
Looking at the evolution of Pauper over the past 10 years, a few trends start to emerge. Consistently, when a combo deck crowds out other decks, it has pieces banned. Frantic Search was the first card in this camp as it powered out massive Temporal Fissure turns thanks to Simic Growth Chamber and Wild Growth, and Temporal Fissure would go on to be banned a year and a half later. Frantic Search was eventually joined by Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake – two cards that could enable similar shenanigans when paired with Ghostly Flicker effects. Each of these cards were key in some of the format’s best decks.
Let’s go back to Temporal Fissure. It was not the first Storm card on the banned list – it was the third after Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot were both banned in early 2013. When they were legal, these two cards were the win conditions of various Storm combo decks.
Pauper Storm - 2012
Goblin Storm - 2012
These decks look like Storm decks. They played like Storm decks and they ran roughshod over the format. While hate was minimal at the time, the truth was that answers would rarely matter. Grapeshot had two “answers” available at the time: Benevolent Unicorn and Prismatic Strands. The earliest of these could come down on turn two but if you were on the draw, Storm could easily go off on their second turn. And if it was a sideboarded game then Storm could simply wait to draw its own countermeasures.
Empty the Warrens is a card that was technically easier to answer. Electrickery was new at the time but has since been joined by plenty of other one-toughness sweepers and more recently a two toughness one in Fiery Cannonade. The problem is drawing it in a timely fashion before facing down an army of hasty tokens.
Storm is successful in Pauper because the mechanic has no real checks. Unlike other formats where Storm is legal, there’s no Blood Moon, no Trinisphere, no Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, no Chalice of the Void, nor anything else that can constrain the combo deck. Discard exists but Duress is hardly enough in these instances. The kind of answers needed to help keep Storm combo in check are difficult to print at common, even in a set as complex as Modern Horizons 2. The answers that do exist can often get the job done but suffer in multicolor decks due to lands that enter the battlefield tapped which in turn constrains the options for deckbuilding. The end result is that when a Storm card proves to be a good kill condition, it can easily dominate a metagame, warping the entire format around the offending combo deck.
I’m not going to tell you how many expletives I wanted to utter when I saw Chatterstorm. All I will say is that they were many, and quite a few were compound swears.
Chatterstorm is no Empty the Warrens. At half the mana value it also produces half the tokens. The Grapeshot decks above usually needed to find two copies of their kill card in order to close the game. Chatterstorm suffers in that it needs 19 prior spells to produce a lethal army without the aid of haste.
If Goblin Bushwhacker were still the best option, that would mean Chatterstorm could likely exist as a niche option. However, there’s another way to give an army haste these days and it halves the number of Squirrels needed: First Day of Class.
First Day of Class has several advantages over Goblin Bushwhacker. The mana requirements are less intense, making it easier to cast in a deck where discrete colors of mana could be at a premium. Second, it buffs the toughness of the creatures it enhances. Electrickery will likely be a common inclusion in decks in an attempt to fight Chatterstorm. First Day of Class will make it so only a few sweepers will be effective – Echoing Decay, Echoing Truth and Fiery Cannonade. Finally, First Day of Class can be cast before Chatterstorm, adding to the Storm count.
Here’s where I would start with a Chatterstorm deck:
Lands 4 Sulfur Vent 4 Irrigation Ditch 4 Geothermal Crevice Spells 4 Cabal Ritual 4 Dark Ritual 4 Rite of Flame 4 Chromatic Sphere 4 Lotus Petal 3 First Day of Class 4 Chromatic Star 4 Chatterstorm 2 Shred Memory 4 Manamorphose 3 Sign in Blood 4 Night’s Whisper 2 Faithless Looting 2 Pentad Prism
I anticipate this being one of the best day one strategies once Modern Horizons 2 comes to Magic Online. Even though Pauper does have more answers these days, it still has one major thing holding it back: the mana. There are no good lands that enter the battlefield untapped. The result is that Storm will have an extra turn of time to get online. It also would be relatively easy for the deck to run some copies of Duress, either main or side, to help protect the combo on a key turn.
Chatterstorm is poised to shake up the Pauper metagame. Maybe this is the time Storm doesn’t break the format. Perhaps the rest of the format has caught up and can keep pace without warping itself to beat Storm and nothing else.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath.