Home on the Midrange – Getting Ahead of the Pauper Metagame

I’m enjoying the unknown of the post-Snowball Pauper metagame. Without the “best deck” floating around, there’s an element of touch-and-goin terms of what deck to build and exactly how to build it.

I’ve been specifically interested in the midrange decks of the format. First, I think they are very good. Secondly, I think they are extremely fun to play and present the pilot with a lot of interesting decisions both in terms of strategic game play but also in terms of how to best construct them.

Today, I’ll be focusing on outlining what I believe to be the two premier midrange archetypes in the format: Mono-Black Control and Boros Monarch. I recently wrote a Mono-Black guide. I’ll be sharing my updated list, as well as some new insights, but mostly I’ll be focused on why I believe midrange decks are currently in a great position in the metagame and where we should be looking to take them going forward.

Building for an Unknown Metagame

With such a small sample of data and difficulty extrapolating post-ban from pre-ban information, it’s difficult to say what the new metagame actually is. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentages were similar to before, with the glaring difference of less Astrolabe.

Alex Ullman had a nice article earlier in the week about emergent trends and decks. He starts with Midrange Monarch (which I agree with) and branch into new blue variants. While I don’t doubt some of these control designs are up and coming, these strategies have not been my experience throughout MTGO Pauper Leagues.

I would describe my league experience as follows:

  • 66% Aggro (notable archetypes in order: Stompy, Burn, Elves).
  • 22% Midrange (notable archetypes in order: Boros Monarch, Black Decks).
  • 13% Blue Control (notable archetypes in order: Tron).

With that said, I think midrange is a great choice, since it tends to be generally favored against aggressive decks (which make up the largest chunk) and unfavored against Tron Control (which is a much smaller piece of the puzzle).

Slogging It Out With Swamps

One of the things I always say about Pauper is that Mono-Black is my favorite deck to build, tune, and play and that when presented with an uphevaled metagame. I’ll play it until there’s a solid reason not to.

Mono-Black is consistently a solid performer for me in Pauper. It’s extremely rare I don’t get at least three wins in a league, even when I get difficult crop of matchups.

Here’s my updated list:

Mono-Black Midrange

18 Swamp (339)
4 Witches Cottage
2 Cuombajj Witches
4 Chittering Rats
2 Phyrexian Rager
2 Crypt Rats
2 Thorn of the Black Rose
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Phyrexian Defiler
3 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Disfigure
2 Duress
4 Geth’s Verdict
2 Chainer’s Edict
4 Sign in Blood

4 Banehound
1 Syphon Life
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Thorn of the Black Rose
1 Duress
2 Rancid Earth
1 Wrench Mind
1 Nausea
1 Evincar’s Justice
1 Spinning Darkness
1 Disfigure


The two places I’ve spent a lot of energy are working on the key matchups and inventing technology and plans to get consistent results. I started with my worst matchups.

Tron is the natural predator of all midrange decks and I’m packing three copies of Spellbomb (fourth in the board) to help even the odds. I tend to play against Tron a little bit more than every other league, and I’m not willing to give up on this popular matchup.

Nihil Spellbomb

If you can take the Crown and keep them out of their graveyard long enough to close the door, game one is actually unfavorable, but winnable. Spellbomb is also extremely useful against Boros Monarch and Tokens, (another challenging and popular matchup for black decks), that generates much of its sticky card advantage via graveyard flashback spells:

Battle ScreechPrismatic StrandsFireboltFaithless Looting

It’s an easy card to sideboard out against aggro decks but an a critically important hedge against the more controlling third of the metagame.

Burn is the most difficult aggro matchup and I’m packing a lot of cards to swing the tide post-sideboard. I’m using a lot of slots on Banehounds, but they have been by far the most consistently useful sideboard card to help bridge the gap until I can deploy Gray Merchant to seal the deal. The ability to recur Banehounds with Cottage is strong.

I also think the stock of Rancid Earth has gone way up.

Rancid Earth

It’s great against both Tron and Boros. You’ll need to back it up against Tron with pressure and card draw, but keeping them of Tron for even a turn or two is well worth it. Against Boros, you can often steal games by hitting a Boros Garrison early on, and the one damage to everything later in the game is quite good against their swarm of 1/1 Fliers.

Crypt Rats

I’ve also moved the second Crypt Rats into the main. It’s such a great utility card with four Witches Cottage to rebuy it against swarm decks. Another cute trick I don’t think I’ve mentioned before is that sacrifice is not part of Rat’s activation cost–it dies to its own damage, which has some play to it.

For instance, imagine it’s turn five and your opponent has a 2/2 Nettle Sentinel and a River Boa with a single Forest open. Obviously, we want to get both of them, but they have a regeneration shield available. No problem. Pay B, maintain priority, and Pay B again (instead of blowing up Rats for X=2). It’s also potentially a way to blow through undying creatures.

Rats are also just a big Fireball to close out games that can be recurred against for lock decks like Tron.

A King Among Monarchs

I said I’ll play Mono-Black until I have a compelling reason to play something else…. But right now I believe that Boros Monarch is king of the Monarch, and thus midrange, decks. Mono-Black really shines against green decks (Elves and Stompy) and the Edicts are extremely nice against Auras Hexproof (which has fallen out of favor for the moment), but Boros has its own good matchups, and has access to a great sideboard.

ElectrickeryPatrician's Scorn

The key is that Boros is much more proactive (aggressive) and Mono-Black is more reactive (defensive). The games feel a little bit easier when I can get out front and force an opponent to react to me and use that pressure to set up devastating sequences rather than constantly trying to match up answers to threats. There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers, right?

Thorn of the Black RosePalace Sentinels

While Mono-Black is a solid Monarch deck, it’s clear to me that Boros is a much better Monarch deck because it’s better at defending the Crown with hordes of evasive flying attackers and blockers. I’ve for sure had games against blue decks where I couldn’t come up with a removal spell for a stray Mulldrifter, lost the mantle, and never regained it thanks to Howling Mine + Fog locks. I would have disfigured my left arm for a 1/1 flying chump blocker in that spot!

Black’s biggest problem is a lack of one and two-drop threats to play to the board early and create pressure. They don’t exist, at least not in the capacity they do in Boros.

Thraben InspectorSeeker of the WayKor SkyfisherGlint HawkSquadron Hawk

I did the color-shifted creatures article last week, and something like a black Thraben Inspector would be at the top of a short list of cards that I’d love to play in a black midrange deck. The key to why I like the Boros deck is that it spends the first three turns playing threats that generate card advantage, whereas all a black midrange deck can do is use cheap removal to keep the board clear until turn three when it can deploy its more expensive value critters.

No Wrong Way to Build a Boros

One of the things I deeply appreciate about Pauper is that even with defined archetypes, there is a high degree of specialization to be made regarding individual card choices.

Boros Monarch decks tend to fall into two distinct categories:

  1. Metalcraft
  2. Go-wide Tokens

Boros Midrange decks are more aggressive than their black counterparts because their core cards, are cheap, aggressive, value creatures. Regardless of which version of Boros, chances are that your deck will draw from the same core cards:

Palace SentinelsThraben InspectorLightning BoltJourney to NowhereBattle ScreechPrismatic StrandsBoros GarrisonWind-Scarred Crag

The maindecks between Metalcraft and Tokens have about 50% overlap, which gives us a strong impression of just how good the core build-around cards are.

Boros Metalcraft


3 Ancient Den
2 Bojuka Bog
3 Boros Garrison
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Mountain (343)
1 Plains (331)
2 Radiant Fountain
1 Secluded Steppe
4 Wind-Scarred Crag
4 Glint Hawk
4 Kor Skyfisher
2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
3 Palace Sentinels
4 Thraben Inspector
2 Battle Screech
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Prismatic Strands
2 Alchemist’s Vial
1 Golden Egg
3 Journey to Nowhere
4 Prophetic Prism

2 Electrickery
1 Gorilla Shaman
3 Lone Missionary
1 Prismatic Strands
3 Red Elemental Blast
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Standard Bearer
1 Shenanigans


It’s pretty bad when the Boros deck can make better use of Okiba-Gang Shinobi than Mono-Black!

Okiba-Gang Shinobi

It’s just a never-ending string of pressure, interaction, and grind. The biggest downside of a deck like this is the vulnerability to artifact hate on its mana base:

Ancient GrudgeGorilla Shaman (Facing Left)

Another thing worth noting is this iteration of Metalcraft isn’t the all-in Ardent Recruit version. While it has a lot of threats, it’s not just beatdown. It can be patient and use its pressure to extract value.

Boros Tokens

NOTGOOD, 6th MTGO Pauper Challenge

2 Ash Barrens
2 Boros Garrison
4 Mountain (343)
7 Plains (331)
1 Radiant Fountain
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 Chain Lightning
1 Electrickery
4 Faithless Looting
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Prismatic Strands
2 Rally the Peasants
2 Journey to Nowhere
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Seal of Fire

1 Aura Fracture
1 Electrickery
1 Flaring Pain
1 Gorilla Shaman
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Leave No Trace
1 Lone Missionary
2 Luminthread Field
4 Red Elemental Blast
2 Relic of Progenitus

Boros Tokens takes a more go-wide approach that is fueled by cheap card filtering (Faithless Looting) and paid off by Rally the Peasants kills.

Faithless LootingRally the Peasants

Multiple cards in the deck (Squadron Hawk, Battle Screech) can produce an army in a can for a single card, which is extremely effective against 1-for-1 removal, especially in situations that involve jockeying for Monarch position.

Red and white are also deep colors when it comes to sideboard cards: Circle of Protections, Electrickery, Standard Bearer, and Red Elemental Blasts quickly fill up a sideboard with A+ utility game breakers.

Molten Rain

One thing I’ve been quick to identify is that Molten Rain is certifiably awesome out of the sideboard. Unlike black decks, which have a hard time turning the tempo of a Stone Rain into a tangible advantage, Boros decks can really squeeze damage out of it because of their one and two-drops. Without Astrolabe to magically fix color requirements, there is once again a bottleneck on playing tapped lands. In particular, bouncelands are a more abundantly juicy target for land destruction, as are Tron lands.

The midrange and control decks have such redundancy that it is hard to run a deck out of gas. Rather, mana tends to be the most constricting bottleneck that leads to positional advantages each turn cycle. I know it sounds lame, but it’s hard to argue that looking to achieve superiority in mana with a sticky, midrange deck is a strong tactic.

Let’s wrap up by coming full circle. One of the elements I appreciate most about Pauper as a format is that while there is a healthy Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame in play, the archetypes function more as a guideline than a hard rule. A midrange deck is favored against aggro, but matchups are not death sentences or freebies when you know what’s up.

I’ve certainly lost to Stompy with Mono-Black. I’ve also won my fair share of matches against Tron with it as well. Most games in Pauper have a ton of play to them and both players have interesting decisions, and it’s difficult to tell who is winning from turn to turn.

I do think that given my perception of the metagame–which is lopsided toward aggro decks–that there is a tangible, positional advantage to playing a midrange deck. Of what I’d consider the two premier midrange strategies, black and Boros, I also believe Boros currently has better matchups than black decks. I would also hypothesize that in the coming weeks, with the aid of better public information and data, that we’ll see more players gravitating toward Boros Midrange (and/or the other blue control decks Alex wrote about).

In fact, when I read Alex’s article, the big takeaway I garnered from the information he brought to the table was that there is currently a battle going on for midrange superiority. How does one best position a midrange deck to beat focused aggro, but also have a great trump plan for midrange mirrors and a plan for Tron?

I’d also speculate that if more people move onto Boros Midrange variants (and away from linear aggro) that it only increases the value of playing a control deck like Tron in the coming weeks. It’s a pretty neat situation to see the metagame completely reset via the ban and watching the cyclical progression once again play out in real time.

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