A Second Bout Of Madness

With Arrogant Wurm and Circular Logic joining online Pauper thanks to the release of Vintage Masters, Alex is exploring the format’s first true tempo deck with a firm grasp of the deck’s former history and card choices.

I want to say that Vintage Masters has changed the landscape of Pauper. It would give me no bigger joy to say that Beetleback Chief and Brindle Shoat are tearing it up.

I can’t say that because not much has changed, at least not in the published results.

The story is the same as it has been for weeks: without accessible events, innovation in Pauper has stagnated. Premier Events do not fire – they take too long to complete for the average player. The format has no Daily Events, and getting single elimination queues to fire is a struggle. Because of these factors, the format has been slow to adapt new technology – the incentives to be ahead of the curve do not exist.

Given that Wizards has publicly stated that Pauper is a format that they consider in the development of certain products, it makes sense that they want to see the all-common battles well into the future. The best way to drum up interest is to have events that are easy to play and worth the entrants’ time. While Pauper Daily Events may not be sustainable in a world where Wizards wants Magic Online to mimic real-world offerings, an analogue could be created to provide Paupers with an outlet. Sixteen-person Swiss queues, while a new tournament structure, could be a sweet spot. These would allow players a reasonable way to invest their time (compared to a half a day for a Premier Event) and provide enough rounds to actually allow some games to be played and decks to be tested.

I believe that once there is a unified client we will see efforts made to expanding play options to make Magic Online a more robust community and playground. I admit to being a Pollyanna on this matter. In order for Pauper to bounce back from last November something needs to be done, and I am waiting patiently for the day when it does. Mostly because I have a whole bevy of sweet lists to try out.

At the front of this line is Blue-Green Madness. Now that Arrogant Wurm and Circular Logic are legal to play in Pauper, I have been doing little else besides discarding cards for fun and profit. Although, to be fair, I have been pitching cards since at least April. I was eager to start gaming with Islands and Forests and once June 13th rolled around I started by playing the list from this article.

A number of shortcomings quickly came to light. Shambleshark, an admitted experiment, ended up being far worse than expected. Arrogant Wurm proved itself to be the best part of the deck, and in an effort to increase my chances of having a 4/4 beater to work with, I upped the Werebear count to four. To facilitate this change, I moved in on Careful Study.

Boy was I wrong to initially omit this sorcery. Looking back at first list, I was trying to walk multiple paths. I was part tempo deck, part beatdown, part aggro-control. After a few games with Careful Study, it was apparent to me that I had been playing the deck incorrectly. U/G Madness is the beatdown. It just so happens to have resilience in the form of counterspells and what feels like a combo kills thanks to madness and threshold.

Put another way – you haven’t really lived until you cast two Basking Rootwallas on the first turn off of an Island and end up with two fresh cards.

So why only three? The first Careful Study kickstarts your engines, but every subsequent one is a little bit worse than the one before. It is possible having an additional copy may be correct at some point, but for the time being I am happy with the playing three.

Deep Analysis was far more powerful than Think Twice. Not only that, but I never wanted to waste time drawing cards at the end of my opponent’s turn – that time was Wurm Time. As I wanted to be using my mana proactively to either cast my spells or discard to Wild Mongrel, I never got full value out of Oona’s Grace and it too left the deck.

The shift towards mana optimization meant that Waterfront Bouncer was a liability. Tacking on an extra mana to every Madness spell is not worth that additional Unsummon. In order to function properly, this list wants to have at least ten free madness outlets. I eventually swapped Bouncer for Merfolk Looter. The original Looter impressed me, so I eventually upped the count to two. Then three. Merfolk Looter plays very well into your proactive game-plan as on average your cards are better than those of your adversary. Drawing an extra card and then casting a spell for a reduced cost or sniping their big play with a Circular Logic is right up there on the awesome scale.

Another result of the focus on mana utilization was the change in bounce spells. Echoing Truth was often an expensive Unsummon while Unsummon was a bad Vapor Snag, so clearly I’m now on Vapor Snag main. Mana Leak also underperformed since I would have to leave mana open in order to attempt to cast my Arrogant Wurms. Daze, however, is free. While running Daze in a two-color deck is a huge risk, especially without true dual lands, the advantages here outweigh the risks. First, the threat you are protecting is often enough to win the game if left unchecked. Second, a returned Island is just more fuel for Wild Mongrel or Merfolk Looter.

These observations have led me to run this list:

One thing I look for when playing a new deck is how often I feel like I can win from a losing position. With this deck, I always feel that way. I could be behind on the board and on life totals and know that I am a mere topdeck away from taking the game. Given the relatively flat power level of Pauper, this is not something that happens with every new deck. The reason is that U/G Madness is a true synergy deck. Unlike the other best decks of the format – Delver of Secrets tempo and Mono-Black Control – this deck is built along a linear mechanic that makes it far greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, Delver has Cloud of Faeries with Spellstutter Sprite and MBC has the devotion powering up their Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Every card this deck interacts favorably with other cards, even if that interaction is “discard for a power/toughness swap.” This in turn makes every individual card slightly better than those of your opponent. Madness is Sparta and they are the invading army.

Madness occupies an interesting spot in the Pauper metagame. I’ve recently discussed the current state of the Pauper metagame, and while to decks are largely the same I would go a bit further and say that any new contender needs to be able to deal with the following:

  • Delver Blue
  • Mono-Black Control
  • Beatdown in the form of creature decks, Burn, and Affinity
  • Late game control in the form of UrzaTron decks
  • Combo in the form of Esper Combo

What has changed? Mono-Black Control has gone from being just a consideration to a major component of the metagame. MBC is a solid bet to win at least one round in the single elimination queues, which lean towards creature-heavy decks and Nivix Cyclops/Kiln Fiend aggro/combo, both of which are decks MBC can dominate. It doesn’t hurt that the deck also has a good Delver matchup and recently got its hands on Chainer’s Edict.

Madness has the tools it takes to fight the big players in the metagame. It plays a better instant-speed game than Delver. Arrogant Wurm laughs at Spellstutter Sprite while Circular Logic and Daze do a great job of working against Delver’s skimpy manabase. Wild Mongrel is also one of the better cards against Spire Golem since it turns every late land into additional damage. The Delver versus Madness matchup is a study in Adrian Sullivan’s Strategic Moments. The Madness player has to shift seamlessly from control to beatdown in order to achieve victory. This moment usually happens once a 4/4 manages to stick. The blue menace has no real answers to large creatures, and sticking one usually ends the game in short order.

Mono-Black Control reverses that almost exactly. Against Delver, Madness wants to play control until the time is right to attack. Paired against MBC, my goal is to attack in a way that will neutralize their removal and then protect an investment. This tends to mean having a poor Basking Rootwalla or Aquamoeba get in the way of a Geth’s Verdict. Once a Werebear or Arrogant Wurm connects, the goal is to make sure it sticks and does its one job. If there is ever a time where Vapor Snag would be better served as Unsummon, it would be in here.

When faced with other metagame factors, Madness occupies the typical aggro-control area of the spectrum. Affinity and other aggressive decks have to be contained with counters and trading resources until your creatures are able to establish a dominant position. Control and combo have to be stomped early, and Circular Logics are used to advance the beatdown plan. Unlike games against Delver and MBC, Madness maintains a relatively static role in these pairings. The former matchups are better defined by their dynamic nature.

It is this versatility that makes Madness an attractive option. The fact that it is equipped to move from role to role with ease allows it to occupy a unique spot in the metagame. The taxonomy is odd, but Madness is a tap-out-tempo-positive beatdown deck. By this I mean that Madness seeks to maximize its mana use every turn in order to advance its board state and establish threats. It does this by cheating out large creatures which gains it a tempo advantage. By doing this in an aggressive manner, it shifts towards the beatdown role. While it is possible for Madness to be built in other manners – true tempo or aggro-control – I feel that this configuration is best given the current state of Pauper.

In order to operate in this manner, Madness needs at least ten free discard outlets. Four copies of Wild Mongrel is a must as the savage [d]astard not only enables our entire strategy but also wins games out of nowhere. Aquamoeba is not as explosive but is necessary as well since there is no mana or activation cost associated with turning on its discard. Merfolk Looter is a fantastic card. Ideally I would like to run two and a half copies, but this isn’t Un-Land. It is possible that one copy wants to be a Looter il-Kor, but I err on the fishy looter as it lets Madness play an instant-speed game while it turns Arrogant Wurm into a cantrip, and the Shadow creature would force us back towards playing at sorcery speed. Waterfront Bouncer shines in certain matchups; it can stop Affinity from establishing a board presence and it can severely disrupt Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops decks. Unfortunately, the additional mana cost to activate it relegates this one to the sideboard.

The sideboard here is the one with which I’ve been testing so far. Because the deck is heavily reliant on synergy, sideboarding is a daunting prospect. Aside from the clear bullets such as Relic of Progenitus against Esper Combo, for example, the cards all seek to advance the tempo-positive gameplan. Every card is about manipulating the rhythm of the match – even Naturalize, which is the world’s best Unsummon against Myr Enforcer (or Seat of the Synod for that matter). The extra fifteen is about adjusting the dials, not turning it up to eleven.

If I wanted to build this deck towards being a traditional tempo deck, I would make some key changes. First I would have the maximum number of Aquamoeba and find space for one or two copies of Waterfront Bouncer in the maindeck, likely reducing the number of Merfolk Looters to one. I would also look long and hard at cutting Daze in order to increase the number of bounce spells available, and I would also look at going whole-hog on Deep Analysis to encourage the old “discard to Mongrel and Flashback for exactsies” play.

Here Vapor Snag may be more of a liability than an offensive tool. I would go back to considering Unsummon as a primary tempo spell and investigate options such as Into the Roil and Echoing Truth to supplement the oldest trick in the book.

A potential Tempo Madness deck could look like this:

The tempo-based version of Madness is far more attractive in a well-defined metagame where it can press its ability to build a tempo advantage against all other decks. As it stands today, this deck is worse against Mono-Black Control with fewer ways to stop a resolved Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I would also be nervous going up against Nivix Cyclops and Myr Enforcer, as those strategies can quickly recover from any line we would be using in order to set them back.

U/G Madness is a powerful deck from Magic’s history. It is resilient while retaining the flexibility to have play against a huge swath of decks. The deck can shine in Pauper, where the metagame is diverse. The reason is simple – flashing out an Arrogant Wurm is one of the most powerful plays available in the format of commons.