Chris VanMeter, Flamecaller

Chris VanMeter is in love with Chandra, and he has some testing results to back it up! See the shell he loves most for his recent red hot MVP! Then, see what Chris has been doing in Pauper of all places!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

Last week I left off sharing some plane ride brews that I had involving Chandra, Flamecaller; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; and Reality Smasher. Throughout the week and weekend, I decided to put together my lists, try out some different configurations, and battle on Magic Online a bit. Long story short, Chandra and Kalitas were every bit as awesome as I had imagined, but Reality Smasher was hot garbage.

I had to screw up my mana in order to play the colorless creatures, often times eschewing the creature-lands like Shambling Vent (which was a travesty, believe me), all for a “payoff” card that is extremely weak to the most-played removal spell in Standard.

Time after time again I would have my Reality Smashers Crackling Doomed, and that was if I ever got to cast them. I believe wholeheartedly that Reality Smasher and company are all extremely powerful Magic cards, and I truly hope that the format with Shadows over Innistrad coming in and Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotating out will allow them to shine, but in the meantime, the fetchland-Battle land manabase affords us the luxury of doing just about whatever we want, and that’s what I plan on taking advantage of.

A friend of mine, SCG Tour ®Open Champion Matt Tumavitch, has been active in a Facebook group that I’m privy to by posting a bunch of different Mardu Green lists that he had been working on. Eventually he swept a PPTQ in the New York area. His list had both Kalitas and Chandra, so I was already hooked, but it also had Goblin Dark-Dwellers, which is another one of my favorite Oath of the Gatewatch cards, so I decided to throw the deck together and play some games. Here is the list that I was working with.

The first match of the first League that I hopped in saw me put a Kalitas on the battlefield on turn 4 against the G/W Hardened Scales deck, which practically blanked their field of a few Servants of the Scale and Hangarback Walker. I then played a Chandra, Flamecaller on turn 6, -2’d the Chandra to kill all of their creatures, and made five zombies.

To say that I was impressed was an understatement.

These types of things just kept happening, too. Both Chandra and Kalitas are insane by themselves, but together they work in such perfect harmony.

Now, this isn’t saying that the deck is perfect or the only home for these two. I’ve seen quite a few Grixis decks in my MTGO battles that have both Kalitas and Chandra along with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. That’s quite the cast of insane characters, if I do say, but I digress.

Getting back to the deck, I did notice a few things while battling, the first being that playing two-drops just never felt great.

There were a few times where I had Sylvan Advocate and my opponent had nothing, so I got to keep them on the back foot for most of the game, especially into turn 6 and beyond. Most of the time, though, my opponent had a Sylvan Advocate or Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim or just something of their own. Being a 2/3 is great for dodging early Fiery Impulses, but when everyone is on 2/3s, then they just kind of stare at each other. Removal is also starting to shift back to Silkwrap since everyone is on 2/3s, so there isn’t even that much of an edge to gain there either.

I’ve seen a few people play builds with no two-drops, and that might be where I am headed. Maybe Sylvan Advocate doesn’t need to be a four-of? Much like how, during my Jund Monsters days, I was experimenting with Courser of Kruphix and found in certain builds that going down to three or even two copies was right.

The second really interesting thing that I kept running into was the Chandra, Flamecaller battle and just how important discard like Duress and Transgress the Mind was. Now, Chandra is extremely powerful; she can usually just kill a planeswalker on her own by doing six points of haste damage. She can clear out a troublesome battlefield and usually stick around to tell tales about it, and she can even start to generate card advantage when attacking isn’t profitable. What I have found over the last week is that Chandra is really good at killing Chandra.

There were a lot of games where I would just have to play my Chandra on turn 6 to kill something like an Ob Nixilis Reignited, or because I just didn’t really have anything going on. My opponent would then untap into their own Chandra and simply kill mine, and then I was in a really rough spot. Having access to Ruinous Path helped, but it still came down to these weird game states where I would sometimes just not cast my Chandra because I couldn’t afford to let them kill mine with theirs, or I would just wait to find another discard spell. Sometimes I would even just overextend into their Chandra so that I could land mine second and steal the initiative back.

I think that this is going to become a normal part of the Standard metagame as we move forward, and figuring out how best to combat it is going to be very important.

The first idea that I had is the Meloku method.

Back during Champions of Kamigawa Standard, Meloku the Clouded Mirror was an insane threat, especially in a deck with Keiga, the Tide Star. I Top 8’d States one year with a deck of Mike Flores design that played both of these awesome creatures. Sticking a Meloku would most assuredly win you the game; however, between removal spells and the old Legend rule, Meloku would die a lot. This led to players just jamming a bunch of copies of Meloku and Keiga into their deck and calling it a day.

In the B/R decks that I brewed up on the plane, I had up to four copies of Chandra, Flamecaller in the decks, and I think that might actually end up the norm. With a Chandra arms race happening along with discard and counterspells seeing play, it will likely end up being worth it to just play a full four copies.

The other idea that I have is to just pair Chandra with blue so that you get access to Negate and Disdainful Stroke. This will likely be a very good way to try to get a leg up in the Chandra battles, but it also gives you game against a lot of the other great threats in Standard, namely Collected Company. With the raw amount of removal and the power level of mid- and end-game threats and answers steadily climbing, the effectiveness of early threats (as they currently stand in Standard) seems to be getting diminished, so preparing for longer games makes sense.

It’s important to note that all of this can be invalidated by simply playing the Rally the Ancestors deck. It’s still winning Grand Prix. It’s still a powerhouse. If you can avoid the powerful draw of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Chandra, Flamecaller and can just focus on playing Rally, you are likely to have success.

The last thing that I noted was that Ob Nixilis Reignited was absolutely bonkers every time I cast him. He likely should be in the main somewhere and may end up just spawning a more controlling Jund or Grixis deck. One of the great things about Chandra and Kalitas being so powerful and working so well together is that we have the freedom to build whatever we want around them.

Ob Nixilis, Jace, Kalitas, and Chandra all together? Seems like one big happy family. Don’t forget that grandpappy Silumgar likes to stop by every now and again.

Once You Paup, You Just Don’t Stop

In addition to jamming my beloved Chandra in Standard, I started to delve into another format on Magic Online. I had a pretty decent-sized Pauper event coming up last weekend, so after chatting a bit with Kent Ketter, I decided to give Tron a try and see what I could learn.

Sadly, some other plans prevented me from playing in the event (husband-to-be gotta do what husband-to-be gotta do), but I enjoyed playing the format so much that I have decided to keep working on it in preparation for the next big Pauper event. Here is the Grixis Tron deck that I currently have together (but is constantly evolving).

This deck is extremely fun! You just get to fly through cards with all the cantrips and Mulldrifter. Masking counterspells with your Prophetic Prisms and Tron land is very tricksy, and while I was playing, I felt like I was constantly learning different lines that I can take.

Pulse of Murasa is an extremely powerful card in Pauper, and I can see more and more decks starting to play it. Mulldrifter is hands down an insane powerhouse in the format, and getting to evoke one, rebuy it with Pulse of Murasa, and then cast it for the full five mana value is such a great feeling.

The auper card pool is huge, and while there have been a decent number of articles written about it (thanks to Chas for highlighting it on the Premium side earlier this week!), I really haven’t been able to at find any that go in-depth on the format. I have been enjoying playing Pauper online enough that I plan on continuing to learn about the format as a whole and see if I can help grow the community. There is Magic Online support with Leagues. There are real-life paper events being run all over, and the bar of entry is pretty low since it is all commons. There are a few cards that aren’t very cheap in paper (here’s looking at you, Oubliette), but outside of that most cards are extremely affordable.

One thing that I have noticed is that there seems to be a huge focus on value and two-for-ones, which I can understand. There really aren’t many high-powered aggressive strategies outside of Goblins that can pressure you quickly enough before you can start taking over with your more powerful value plays. Dual lands that gain life add to this, and there are even cards like Pulse of Murasa now that just put quite a hurting on aggressive strategies.

Maybe there need to be some changes to the banned list. Maybe there just need to be more eyes active on the format. This is all something that I am intrigued with!

Much like Commander, I have seen that the Pauper community definitely has a casual side and a competitive side, and while I love to play Magic in general, I really love to play as well as I can and try to win. I’m going to continue to evolve the Grixis Tron deck, since there are so many other options. Fangren Maurader is great, and I have even seen some builds using Mystical Teachings and Ghostly Flicker.

I would love to hear about if you enjoy Pauper or not and why. What is your favorite deck? Please share your Pauper stories with me as I am hungry to devour all of the Pauper information that I can!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!