While I’m definitely missing the friendly brew and shuffle component of paper Pauper (and Magic in general) as the pandemic continues to drag on, I’ve been a lot more willing to embrace what I enjoy about experimenting with new ideas within the context that currently exists.
There’s certainly a part of me that suspects I’d win more by simply jamming the known, stock, best decks and adapting them to the nuances of the metagame, but I can’t deny I love to trying to find untapped potential in strategies that are fun to play and in the blind spot of other player’s meta-radar and trying to improve them.
Today, I’m going to give my feedback on the strategy I worked on over the past week: Base-Black sacrifice decks.
PLAYING HACKY SACK
Before I get into my thoughts on playing the deck, let’s start with the list I tuned up:
Pauper Golgari Sacrifice Deck List - Brian DeMars
In terms of the total Pauper Metagame, BG Aristocrats currently occupies a space somewhere in between being thought of as a Rogue Deck and unplayable, at least with regard to its meta representation which lingers somewhere between 0%-1%. It’s certainly not a popular deck choice or one that has proven itself to be a known winner.
I put some time into playing, tuning, and learning it and it is my opinion the strategy is better than people give it credit for. While I don’t think it’s good enough to be considered a top metagame contender (and I’ll get into why I think that later) I do believe it’s good enough to shuffle up and perform well in the field in the hands of a pilot who puts in the repetitions to get the most out of it.
It certainly benefits from some inherently good match ups and that fact most opponent’s won’t be bringing in silver bullets that punish the deck very hard. There really isn’t a commonly played “Oops, I win,” sideboard card I have to be afraid of but I do get access to some spicy cards to swing matchups post board.
I KNOW WHAT IT DOES, BUT WHAT DOES IT DO
Let’s talk a minute about what I think the deck does well and why it’s worth considering. If I had to compare it to another deck in the format, I’d compare it to Affinity.
Although both decks utilize 100% different sets of cards and tactics, I would describe the strength of both archetypes, GB and Affinity, as their ability to create tons of exploitable synergies capable of wildly swinging a game.
The trusty Affinity strategy is all about creating and facilitating artifact based synergies, whereas the Sacrifice decks try to exploit the synergies between sacrificing small creatures at a profitable rate of exchange.
One of the reasons I think the deck is “good” is that when it draws a balanced hand with a good mix of cards Sacrifice decks have tons of opportunities to create extremely efficient and impactful interactions that are difficult to answer at parity up and down the curve in a typical game of Pauper.
All of the creatures are extremely cheap to cast and difficult to answer “for value.” There’s typically not one specific thing that matters, but a bunch of things that all sort of matter, and whatever my opponent can’t mop up will typically continue to push through damage turn after turn.
Some of my creatures can get big enough to shrug off a Lightning Bolt or Defile in the early turns, a lot of my creatures leave a body behind to insulate against sweepers, and I have combat tricks and removal to improve my positional advantage on any contested board.
DO WE NEED THE SECOND COLOR?
The biggest downside of GB sacrifice in the “big picture” is that because it is almost exclusively looking to win in combat, that it tends to be easy prey for decks designed to “fog lock” an opponent out of combat.
Affinity, has a similar problem, and addresses it with the Atog + Fling combo.
I added Lampad to the deck to give me some coverage to squeeze out games, but it’s obviously a lot less situational than Fling-A-Tog which can deal massive chunks of damage. All things considered, Lampad has been a consistently impressive performer in my list. It’s very useful at closing out games and having access to some life gain in the main deck gives us a reasonable way to race extremely aggressive decks like Burn or Stompy.
Chump-Blocking and then sacrificing to Drain for 1 is often significantly more impressive in a tight game than it sounds on paper.
I also think GB has a very challenging matchup against Hexrpoof Auras which I’ve been seeing more of lately. I’m packing a mix of Edicts (which I use in any match up where I want to kill blockers) and the GG Serene Heart.
I also found BG to be disadvantaged against Boros Monarch Midrange, primarily because Prismatic Strands on dense boards is often impossible to overcome. So basically, I wouldn’t choose to play BG against Fog based decks, or Boggles but feel pretty good about most other match-ups.
For a large competitive event, I certainly wouldn’t choose a deck with a poor Boros AND Tron match up, but I think it’s certainly a reasonable deck for a league where people play less Tron and a deck that tends to create a lot of games that are both fun and interesting to play (when you don’t get locked out of the combat step).
A two color mana base that isn’t based around blue cantrips like Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm is also not what I’d describe as an ideal situation. Since the key lynch pins of the deck are all Black, I tried rebuilding the deck as a Mono Black shell to see if smoother mana would potentially help the deck run smoother and faster.
Pauper Mono Black Sacrifice Deck List - Brian DeMars
The Mono Black version has some nice things going for it. In particular, the inclusion of Dark Ritual to accelerate into an instant “army in a can.”
The ability to deploy multiple cards ahead of schedule is a great boon in a synergy deck, since it can create a palpable mismatch where an opponent will struggle to address your pieces efficiently.
I’m always willing to make major concessions in the name of better and smoother mana, and so there are certainly parts of this deck that are appealing to me as a pilot, but ultimately when it was all said and done I preferred the substantially better card quality GB had to offer.
In particular, the efficiency of Green’s CMC =1 two-bodies-for-one-mana creatures like Young Wolf and Blisterpod offset a lot of the constraints of playing two colors. There is no comparable card available in a mono black shell for one mana.
Winding Way and Hunger of the Howlpack are also incredibly powerful and efficient cards that slot perfectly into the avenues of strongest synergy the strategy offers. So, ultimately, I do feel like Green is well with the inclusion.
I generally find BG is strong against other creature decks, especially Blue based aggro. In general, I tend to find most of Mono Blue or Ux aggro’s cards to line up poorly against BG or Black Sack with the exception of Augur of Bolas which is a quality blocker against about half of my creatures.
I can also say that Plagued Rusalka has dazzled me non-stop:
While it can sometimes be awkward to navigate multiple usages in the same turn in a two color deck, Plagued Rusalka pads the two types of effects (sacrifice outlets and removal) at the same time while also being a cheap creature that can be found with Winding Way. It’s very flexible at doing most things aside from beating down and provides a lot of synergistic overlap.
You’ll also note that there are a lot of points of convergence between these two very different decklists. In either case, the decks will tend to have similar, but slightly nuanced, match ups against the field. I think the slightly more plodding, but grinder card quality of Black green tends to matter more across a broad spectrum of games and match ups.
Overall, I didn’t see enough upside to Mono Black to be worth continuing down that rabbit hole as opposed to simply working harder on my Golgari 75, which I’ve enjoyed spending the past week with. As a whole, the strategy is really fun to play because there are always a lot of decisions to make and lines of play to consider and it has a lot of draws that are really powerful.
The downside is that the mana is a little bit clunkier than most tier 1 decks and the strategy has an Achilles heel against the Fog strategies which represent part of the Top Tier of the metagame. So, while I tend to believe the deck is quite good against a huge chunk of potential opponents, it is notably weak against a contingent of the meta that is known to be very good.
Overall, super fun strategy to jam in #MTGPauper!