Earlier this week, four cards were banned in Pauper, and if you aren’t a close follower of the format (or Commander), there’s a chance you might not even know what the four newly banned cards, or their shared mechanic, do. So let’s cover that first.
The four cards joining the Pauper banned list are Aarakocra Sneak, Stirring Bard, Underdark Explorer and Vicious Battlerager. These cards all let you take the initiative – that is venture into the Undercity – a dungeon specific to Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Having the initiative allows you to progress through the Undercity each upkeep, and taking it additional times means you get to move further through the Undercity. The Undercity’s left-hand path is very aggressive, giving two +1/+1 counters to a creature before casting an uncounterable Lava Axe, then drawing a card and digging 10 cards deep in your library for another creature which in turn enters play for free and gets a power bonus. It is rather potent and sticking a creature while having the initiative means that you very quickly get a threat that will end the game in short order.
The meat grinder that is Magic Online took this mechanic and put it into a Dark Ritual-powered “Storm” combo shell. Now decks were resolving these threats on turn one and two, which resulted in a compressed game state that more or less amounted to “have the right answer in your opening grip or lose.” After the bans, some pointed to Dark Ritual and other “fast mana” as culprits and while that may very well be true, the initiative still presents a game piece that cannot be removed and directly impacts the board. This is an important difference from monarch, which draws a card.
But those cards are gone. While the initiative remains with Trailblazer’s Torch, Avenging Hunter and Goliath Paladin, the hope is that these cards will find a home in more midrange strategies. Still, the format will hopefully open up some and with that in mind here are some decks I feel are well positioned for the post-ban Pauper metagame.
Pauper CawGate by Selkcahs
CawGate is a white-blue control deck that uses the combination of Squadron Hawk and Brainstorm in an attempt to gain card advantage. In the past, this interaction was not good enough as whatever deck housed it lacked closing power. Enter Basilisk Gate. Another standout from Battle for Baldur’s Gate, Basilisk Gate turns any Hawk into a potentially game-ending threat. These decks also run Sacred Cat for resiliency and the potential for some massive life swings and Guardian of the Guildpact for the real control win condition experience. Gingerbrute in this build is a nod to needing to steal the initiative, which may prove important in the upcoming metagame as well.
CawGate is a fairly versatile deck thanks to its Gate mana base. The ability to select secondary colors on the newest Gates make it easy to splash for high impact sideboard cards like Red Elemental Blast and Arms of Hadar. It can easily find space for Dust to Dust if Affinity makes a comeback and has some flexibility in the main 60 as well. It sees a ton of cards thanks to its Brainstorm engine, Preordain and The Modern Age, so it is conceivable the deck could run a few silver bullets as well. While the metagame may take some time to settle, a proper CawGate build could cut through the metagame.
Pauper Terror Delver by OceanSoul92
Tolarian Terror is a heck of a Magic card. It’s a Gurmag Angler-sized threat that does not make the second copy any more difficult to cast and comes with some built-in protection in the form of ward 2. Thanks to the abundance of cheap blue cantrips and countermagic, it’s not difficult to get Terror down on the third or fourth turn with some protection. The abundance of spells also makes it easy to flip Delver of Secrets, giving these decks some early offense to go with their powerful curve topper. This build runs four copies of Foil as a way to fight the Dark Ritual-powered initiative decks but given how well it works with Tolarian Terror, it may stick around moving forward.
Similar to various Spellstutter Sprite decks, there are going to be times when it’s correct to pair Tolarian Terror with red for cards like Breath Weapon or black to go with Gurmag Angler and Snuff Out. While it may be a bridge too far, the fact that Tolarian Terror doesn’t have to exile cards in the bin to help reduce its mana cost means that it might be able to be paired with Nimble Mongoose and Werebear to fulfill the dreams of so many Pauper players who grew up watching Odyssey Block Constructed.
Pauper Golgari Initiative by Pr0boszcz
The last deck I want to highlight today comes from Pauper grinder and brewer Pr0boszcz. They tend to have good early builds of decks that push new mechanics and understand how to approach the metagame. The build above combines the more Dark Ritual-focused builds of initiative with the Arbor Elf-based ramp decks that have been popular recently. Instead of accelerating into an Annoyed Altisaur, this deck wants to end on either the monarch or initiative. This list is clean and while it might not be a perfect build, it’s a fantastic start.
Avenging Hunter is a heck of a card and left uncontested, it can end the game in short order. Considering how important Snuff Out is going to be in this metagame, thanks to its ability to hit a wide swath of the format at no mana cost, running four copies of Thorn of the Black Rose makes sense. I’m interested to see where this build ends up.
This is not an exhaustive list of decks that can succeed in the new metagame. Affinity remains a major player as do Spellstutter Sprite decks. Monastery Swiftspear hasn’t gone anywhere and neither has Boros. So, what are you looking to play in this latest version of Pauper?