You can call it Boros, Bully, Monarch, Midrange, Tokens, Metalcraft, or even Mardu (if you’ve got the fixing!), but no matter what you call it—R/W is sweet and has proven itself a Pauper force with real staying power over the past year.
If we look back to pre-Blue-Monday bans:
Boros was there, keeping it real, and representing non-blue decks.
If we look back to Snow Summer:
Boros was there too (albeit Jeskai was sort of a ‘better’ Boros deck—we’ll get to that).
In the present:
Boros is still standing and is perhaps stronger and better positioned than ever before!
Today’s article will break down the ‘Paupular’ Boros archetype in all of its many manifestations. If you’ve ever wondered:
What is Boros?
How does it work?
Why is it so good?
Or, most importantly:
How do I build a great version?
Today’s article will answer these questions and more!
What Defines Boros? What Is Midrange?
As is the case with anything that has multiple salient attributes it’s difficult to throw out one easy catch-all explanation that encompasses the entirety of a complex subject. Nevertheless, here I go.
Boros is many things across the spectrum of tactics, but the most successful approach to playing the colors is as a midrange strategy in Pauper.
What is Midrange?
The term “midrange” gets thrown around all the time and often falls into the “I know it when I see it” category. Here’s a more specific working definition: “Midrange decks fall in the middle of the spectrum between beatdown aggro and control.”
A beatdown deck’s job is clear: apply pressure and use it to win the game.
A control deck’s job is equally clear: dispense of opposing threats and win via attrition (create a situation where an opponent can no longer win the game) and then win the game.
A midrange deck’s job tends to be more variable and depends on what the opponent’s deck is doing and how it matches up. Against a beatdown opponent, the midrange deck will often adopt the control role. Against a control opponent, the midrange deck will be the aggressor.
While there are many ways to build and tune R/W decks in Pauper, it tends to remain constant that being midrange is the most consistent path to success.
Two Flavors of Boros
The most successful Boros Decks, while both midrange, tend to fall into two distinct categories: metalcraft and tokens.
The naming conventions of Boros Decks are confusing: Monarch, Metalcraft, Tokens, Bully, Mardu, Midrange, etc. These conventions inform specification within Boros Lists, but ultimately the most important thing to pay attention to is whether or not the list is built around artifacts, or not, as this is the single most important factor that will dictate the best cards to play in the deck.
Let’s take a look at both versions.
Boros Metalcraft (Artifact Version)
Again, right from the get-go, we’re going to hit on some confusing naming conventions! The popular, successful Boros Metalcraft decks have little to do with actual metalcraft mechanic (outside of Galvanic Blast).
In the past, we’ve certainly seen dedicated metalcraft lists utilize the mechanic handily:
Such a deck would fall into my “metalcraft camp,” and I’d consider it to be a previous level iteration of the strategy that had success during the Jeskai Snow Era, which forced Boros into a weird metagame space. While it might sound strange to say that a deck playing 10 Snow Islands was the best “Boros Deck” before the Astrolabe ban, it’s certainly true that Jeskai was the strongest competitive midrange deck, and it largely displaced Boros’s role in the metagame.
There’s a popular slogan in Magic, “Don’t play a worse version of something else.” In this case, midrange Boros decks were outgunned by superior Jeskai decks. With Astrolabe gone, Boros midrange builds have once again taken up the mantle of the premier midrange deck.
Aggressive previous level metalcraft decks are playable and competitive, but they are not the most successful version of the strategy.
Here’s the template for a current, well-built metalcraft/artifact synergy Boros midrange deck:
Lampalot – 9th Pauper Challenge
1 Mountain 1 Plains 3 Ancient Den 2 Bojuka Bog 3 Boros Garrison 1 Forgotten Cave 3 Great Furnace 2 Radiant Fountain 1 Secluded Steppe 4 Wind-Scarred Crag 4 Glint Hawk 1 Gurmag Angler 1 Kor Sanctifiers 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Thraben Inspector 3 Palace Sentinels 1 Electrickery 1 Faithless Looting 1 Firebolt 4 Galvanic Blast 3 Lightning Bolt 2 Prismatic Strands 2 Alchemist's Vial 1 Golden Egg 2 Journey to Nowhere 4 Prophetic Prism 1 Serrated Arrows Sideboard 1 Circle of Protection: Red 1 Gorilla Shaman (Facing Left) 1 Krark-Clan Shaman 1 Last Rites 2 Lone Missionary 2 Pyroblast 1 Reaping the Graves 2 Red Elemental Blast 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Standard Bearer
There are plenty of nice artifact synergies built into the core of the deck:
I love the miser’s Serrated Arrows as multi-function removal that can be redeployed with Glint Hawk or Kor Skyfisher. It’s a great way to power through the middle turns of the game against pesky Elves, Faeries, or tokens.
Full access to filtering via Prophetic Prism allows Metal versions to dip into other colors for added utility. Notably, Reaping the Graves and Gurmag Angler in Lampalot’s list, but also Okiba-Gang Shinobi.
Black is a natural splash in Boros and incentivizes playing another black mana source:
The relative value of a Bojuka Bog fluctuates from one matchup to the next, but it’s a great way to diminish an opponent’s ability to leverage their graveyard as an extension of their hand.
Obviously, Bog is sorcery speed and thus not a direct answer to Tron’s Ghostly Flicker loop combo, but it’s still a way to curtail an opponent’s ability to use their graveyard as a resource.
Upside of metalcraft: Boros Metalcraft tends to be mana efficient and aggressive. It’s built lower to the ground. The focused aggression represents a faster clock backed up by a higher quality and density of burn to close games. These factors are relevant against control decks like Tron that use “fog lock” loops to invalidate the combat step.
The low-to-the-ground curve and copious burn also provide advantage in certain situations against aggro decks. It’s simply more likely to draw a hand on the play that can race.
Built-in mana fixing such as Prophetic Prism also lends itself to splashing powerful cards outside of red and white.
Downside of metalcraft: While the strength, speed, and synergy of the deck comes from artifacts, it is equally true that they can be a liability (especially the artifact lands after sideboard!).
If you put a big bulls-eye on your lands as “fair game for attack,” it goes without question that people will do just that! Whatever cards opponents have in their sideboard for Affinity will become relevant against Boros Metalcraft post-board.
Boros Tokens has evolved to forgo one of the long-standing signatures of Boros midrange decks:
It’s not based around, or reliant upon, artifacts. I mentioned White Tsar’s deck in my 2019 Year in Review and he’s won a Challenge with it since!
White Tsar – 1st MTGO Challenge
6 Mountain 7 Plains 4 Boros Garrison 4 Wind-Scarred Crag 1 Guardian of the Guildpact 2 Palace Sentinels 4 Seeker of the Way 4 Squadron Hawk 4 Thraben Inspector 4 Battle Screech 2 Electrickery 4 Faithless Looting 2 Firebolt 4 Lightning Bolt 3 Prismatic Strands 2 Rally the Peasants 2 Journey to Nowhere 1 Oblivion Ring Sideboard 1 Electrickery 1 Flaring Pain 3 Lone Missionary 2 Lumithread Field 4 Pyroblast 2 Red Elemental Blast 2 Relic of Progenitus
Boros Tokens is a unique blend of grindy card advantage, sticky pressure, and a go-wide combo kill. In fact, it’s secretly one of the best “graveyard decks” in Pauper!
25% of the starting 60 has flashback. Unlike traditional and familiar “graveyard decks,” like Dredge, which does the dirty work from the ‘yard, Boros Tokens uses the graveyard as a natural extension of its hand the fair way to create card advantage and grind an opponent into submission. Obviously, such an approach is attrition-based, so the tokens variant falls further on the “control” side of the spectrum than its metalcraft/artifact counterparts.
Key cards like Battle Screech and Prismatic Strands do not require mana to be flashed back (often after being pitched to Faithless Looting), and instead are played by tapping white creatures (of which the deck has many), so I suppose “the fair way” is debatable…
Upsides of tokens: Boros Tokens is more controlling (on the midrange spectrum) than Metalcraft and has fantastic defensive capability to gum up the board and quickly transition into aggression with Rally the Peasants. The critical mass of flashback provides card advantage and staying power that is ideal against both aggressive and controlling strategies.
It also has more consistent and less vulnerable mana. The deck plays a higher threshold of ETB untapped basics which significantly mitigates clunky draws and maximizes the opportunity to curve out.
Another natural advantage of playing a token strategy is that it is insulated against 1-for-1 removal (since there are many cards that produce multiple threats). Chainer’s Edict, an amazing Pauper card, is barely functional against Boros Tokens.
Downsides of tokens: The downside of Tokens tends to be its soft matchup against fog lock decks such as Urza Tron. Boros likes to answer threats, gum up the board, and transition into offense later in the game. Unlike Metalcraft, it has significantly fewer draws that lead to quick pressure. Unfortunately, this dynamic plays right into Tron’s hands.
Tokens’ woes are multiplied by the fact that its removal suite isn’t ideal for interacting with 4-toughness creatures and instant-speed flicker effects.
Tokens is also vulnerable to 1-damage sweepers like Electrickery or Shrivel during the deployment phases of the game. Lumithread Field is a great sideboard card to combat this weakness, but these “anti-Elves” cards are backbreaking against many Token draws.
Which Pauper Deck Should You Play?
I’ve played a considerable amount with both variants and achieved a similar positive result with both. None of this should be too surprising, considering “Boros midrange” is one of the most consistent, high performing strategies in the format.
The Token version is significantly more popular on MTGO than Metalcraft and has put up stronger results, which is likely a case that it is better positioned overall. A big part of the preference for Tokens over Metalcraft in the metagame is likely the fact that it appears slightly favored in the heads up.
It may also be true that the success of Tokens across metagame analytics may be linked to the platform instilled bias I explored last month in my article about how gameplay on various platforms changes gameplay dynamics. It’s notable, for instance, that the vast majority of Pauper results come from MTGO, rather than IRL paper events.
Based on my experience playing both versions of the deck, I’d be inclined to choose an artifact version for an IRL paper tournament and Tokens for an MTGO tournament. My choice is largely informed by the interplay between both decks and the format’s apex predator, Urza Tron.
The impact of the MTGO Chess clock in combination with a lack of time-saving “shortcuts” impacts matchup dynamics and win percentages.
Metalcraft, with a more aggressive clock and Galvanic Blast, has a better matchup against Tron when matches are played to completion “the fair way” than Boros Tokens. In matches played to completion, I would describe Metalcraft v. Tron as “unfavorable,” and Tokens v. Tron as “more unfavorable.”
On MTGO, when Chess clock and “no shortcuts” comes into play as a legitimate (or, so I’m told) way to win, I’ve found that Tokens and Metalcraft have increasingly similar win percentages against Tron. The key is that Tokens’ copious life gain and ability to generate a massive number of tokens requires significant repetition of loops to undo from the Tron player, which taxes their clock, and translates to a significant number of wins that would have been losses in paper.
Obviously, such an approach is highly unreliable against premier-level MTGO players, but it comes into play a fair amount in League play. More importantly, the reason I bring this up is to demonstrate that such a dynamic may play a significant role in why the metagame percentages have shaken out the way they have.
My Boros Metalcraft List
There’s a lot of ways to build a Boros deck, but here’s my spin on Metalcraft.
2 Mountain 2 Plains 4 Ancient Den 3 Boros Garrison 1 Forgotten Cave 4 Great Furnace 4 Wind-Scarred Crag 1 Secluded Steppe 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 3 Palace Sentinels 4 Thraben Inspector 2 Seeker of the Way 1 Bonesplitter 2 Electrickery 1 Faithless Looting 4 Galvanic Blast 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Prismatic Strands 2 Alchemist's Vial 2 Journey to Nowhere 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Gorilla Shaman 3 Lone Missionary 4 Red Elemental Blast 1 Pyroblast 1 Electrickery 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Standard Bearer 1 Reaping the Graves
Pretty straightforward here. Seeker of the Way is an extremely efficient threat and I’ve woven a few copies into the main deck to provide redundancy at the 2-drop slot.
I’ve also been impressed with Bonesplitter as a way to add an artifact and beef up some of my smaller threats like Thraben Inspector. Bonesplitter + Seeker is also a nice combo! It also provides a cheap artifact to pick up with Glint Hawk or Kor Skyfisher and is quite good attached to them as well!
White Tsar’s list is so close to flawless that I haven’t found anything to definitively improve upon. It’s focused and balanced.
Regardless of whether you end up on Tokens or Metalcraft, there’s bound to be a lot of overlap in the sideboard, which makes perfect sense since both are midrange R/W decks and will likely have similar strengths and weaknesses.
The MTGTOP8 composite sideboard overlaps more than 10 cards which is 66% of slots. Personally, I prefer redundancy to specificity and I overlap on these gold standard sideboard staples rather than wander into the realm of fun-ofs. I want cards that will be useful often and make a significant impact.
These are the bread and butter:
Tron, Faeries, Dimir Control…
If the opponent is on blue, these are coming in and likely the best cards in your deck. They double as removal in many cases, which allows you to shave the least efficient MD removal.
Primarily in the sideboard to answer Elves and Boros Tokens. Don’t hesitate to board these in against Bogles (it can be overloaded to kill a hexproof creature) or Stompy (especially on the draw).
Earns a spot because it helps break up Tron’s graveyard loops. I’m more liberal about “bringing it in for value” from a Metalcraft sideboard since it has greater functional synergy.
Probably the best, most versatile card against dedicated aggro decks like Stompy, Goblins, and especially Burn. I don’t bring it in against Affinity (the body is too small) nor do I bring it in for midrange mirrors for the same reason.
The dedicated “Bogles” card. Bogles has fallen off the map lately because fog lock decks are so prevalent, but they still exist and are favored against Boros. The card earns its spot because it is also a house against Mono-Green Stompy.
The token “free win” card vs. artifact decks like Affinity and Boros Metalcraft.
A Boros Tokens specific sideboard card that helps against cheap sweepers like Electrickery and Shrivel. It’s also very good in a Tokens mirror match since 1/2 fliers are quite good against 1/1 fliers AND they have Electrickery. It’s also good against black decks because it’s a threat that will leave something behind when they try to remove it.
With that I believe I’ve covered the basics of Boros: what it is, why it’s good, the important distinctions between competing lists, its role in the metagame, how to build it, and the key role players in the sideboard. Whew! It’s a midrange deck, which means it’s extremely interactive and fun to play, because it provides the pilot an opportunity to navigate between playing control and aggro in various situations.
It’s also not click-intensive like the other “best deck” in Pauper, Tron, which makes it a little more player-friendly on MTGO. I hope you enjoyed the Boros crash course. If you have a more specific question I wasn’t able to get to in the article, feel free to drop me a comment and I’ll be happy to discuss.