Let’s get this out of the way: blue is the best color in Pauper. It has access to some of the best card filtering ever printed in Ponder and Preordain. It has one of the format’s best threats in Delver of Secrets. It can play a tempo game with Spellstutter Sprite, control the stack with Counterspell, and lock people out of the game with Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker. Blue is also the color that best benefits from new cards. Ash Barrens, for example, turned Brainstorm from a second tier spell in the format into a top flight option. Despite this power, these days there are two main camps of blue decks. Unlike white, blues engines both trade in card advantage, albeit in slightly different ways.
Mystic Sanctuary has quickly become one of the most important cards in Pauper. The graveyard has been Pauper’s go to for tutoring for years and Mystic Sanctuary stapled a solid effect on to an uncounterable land. While the Sanctuary does not put the retrieved spell directly into your hand, this is blue we’re talking about so it’s bound to end up there eventually. While Mystic Sanctuary has seen play in a combo deck (which we’ll get to later), the decks most propped up by the Throne of Eldraine addition are tempo strategies.
Pauper Delver Deck List - Ocsacr_Franco - Finalist - April 12 Pauper Challenge
Pauper Dimir Delver - Oceansoul92 - Top 4 - April 7th Pauper Super Qualifier
Pauper Izzet Delver - Cicciogire - Top 8 - April 7th Pauper Super Qualifier
Delver of Secrets was a format defining card for years but had fallen out of favor. The rise of Monarch strategies and the surge in copies of Kor Skyfisher made it hard to justify running a 3/2 creature as your main source of offense. Aberrations were flying high after Ultimate Masters gave Dimir Delver the option to Gush into Foil, but then that deck got hit hard with bans and Delver decks dwindled again. The surge in combo Tron decks opened a small window for the flyer to return, but Delver decks struggled to keep up with the card advantage generated by rebuying Mulldrifter.
Enter Mystic Sanctuary. Now Delver decks had a late game plan to rival both Tron and Monarch. Mystic Sanctuary could be paired with Tragic Lesson to form a viable card advantage engine or paired with Deprive for a soft lock. The result is a style of deck that can apply pressure early and enact a “protect the castle” strategy.
Right now, both Mono-Blue and Dimir are the best positioned Mystic Sanctuary decks. Izzet Delver or Izzet Faeries, built on the power of Skred, have fallen out of favor. Dimir has gained popularity thanks to Gurmag Angler but also because the Sanctuary-Lesson engine provides these decks with more late game power to make up for more situational removal spells – Agony Warp doesn’t go to the face quite like Lightning Bolt. The monochromatic build has the advantage of playing the traditional Delver game with cards like Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours. It also does not have to make any concessions in its mana base and excels at casting Counterspell and Deprive.
Pauper Azorius Familiars - A_AdeptoTerra - Top 8 - April 12th Pauper Challenge
Pauper Flicker Tron - Rclint21 - Winner - April 12th Pauper Challenge
These decks have a lot of overlapping components. They lean on card filtering to find key pieces and Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker effects to create loops. But the card that ties the decks together is one that keeps the cards flowing: Mulldrifter. The flying fish has been a key card in Pauper ever since it’s release and the advent of flicker decks has made it that much better.
The goal with any Mulldrifter deck is to get it at a discount and build a Panharmonicon. Years ago this was accomplished by pairing Mulldrifter with Undying Evil. By evoking Mulldrifter and placing the sacrifice trigger under the draw trigger, you could draw into the instant, cast it, and get a 3/3 Mulldrifter and going up two cards in hand and a permanent.
The big change in Mulldrifter decks came when Tron decks began to run Pulse of Murasa as a way to survive against aggressive strategies. This allowed them to rid themselves of Fangren Marauder and eggs to buffer life total and in turn the deck could start running ways to make Mulldrifter better. The end-game of Dinrova Horror sealed the deal and these decks adopted Ghostly Flicker as the engine grease. Ephemerate made things easier.
Just like white, blue has a fairly robust supporting cast. More than white, however, these cards often come in packets.
Ponder and Preordain
What else needs to be said about these cards? Ponder and Preordain are banned in Modern while Ponder is restricted in Vintage. These are some of the best cards of all time and Pauper has access to them unhindered. They help blue decks see their high impact cards while also having synergy with things like Delver of Secrets.
Ninja of the Deep Hours and Spellstutter Sprite
Spellstutter Sprite stands in for a package that usually includes Faerie Miscreant or Faerie Seer as additional support. The ability to counter key spells at relevant points on the curve only to be rebought with Ninja of the Deep Hours helps blue play to its tempo advantage – stop your threat and develop my board. Ninja may have lost some luster as there are easier ways to draw cards these days but that doesn’t mean the all-star is bad. It’s just one of many engines available in a format that used to have startinglingly few.
Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker
This could easily be Archaeomancer and Ghostly Flicker but you get the idea. Usually found in conjunction with Mulldrifter, this engine allows you to generate enters-the-battlefield triggers until you run out of mana. The spouts for this combo tend to be Sage’s Row Denizen in Familiars, or a combination of Dinrova Horror and Stonehorn Dignitary in Flicker Tron. Until those cards are found, Mulldrifter, Sea Gate Oracle, or Augur of Bolas do a fine job digging you deeper. And if you get two Archaeomancers with a Flicker, why then you’re just drawing your best spell every turn.
It’s easy to see why this has become one of the best late game engines in Pauper. It is highly resilient – not just because of how trivial it is to get stuff back from the graveyard in the format – but also because of the power of blue defensive spells. Dispel and Prohibit are fantastic at protecting the pieces and, given enough mana, you’re never going to run out of answers.
Why, then, do I consider Mulldrifter to be the pillar? I believe that without Mulldrifter, the Flicker engine loses a key component. It is not that flickering would die, but rather it slows down the decks in an appreciable way. It is also because Mulldrifter works in other fringe builds, helping to prop them up.
There’s no question that blue is the best color in Pauper. It has some of the best card advantage engines available in a format the baseline is a two-for-one. Outside of blue it is hard to go up more than one card in any given interaction. And when games often come down to who has more resources, it is easy to see why blue comes out ahead.