Delving Into Pauper

Pauper is a fun, competitive format largely played on Magic Online. With Innistrad, one new major player has emerged in Delver of Secrets, allowing for an array of new aggro-control possibilities. Check ’em out.

Innistrad is now available to Paupers, and the results… are not that different. The October 29th Premier Event (lists can be found here) featured a proliferation of aggro decks, with three Goblins, three Infect, and one Affinity (MBC being the lone control holdout), without an Innistrad card to be found in any of the 75s. Yes, cards are seeing play—Geistflame makes an appearance in different Mystical Teachings–based lists as a source of pinpoint removal with built-in card advantage, but little else from the world of Gothic horror can be easily found. There is a list, however, that looks more akin to something one would find in the world of Legacy or 7-Year Extended, and it recently 4-0’d a Pauper Daily.

Fourteen land, thirty spells, and a one-drop strong enough to make a splash in Legacy. This deck has more in common with the combo decks seen in Pauper than those that attack, and it piqued my interest immediately. I took it to the tournament practice room and was surprised at how consistent the deck proved to be—I found myself with an excess of land more often than a dearth of resources.

The ideal line of play for this deck is turn one Delver with protection, turn two flip, and continue to keep shoes off your insect’s back. This can result in some very quick wins, as swinging for three on turn two is not something many decks are capable of dealing with. Helping in this quest is Gitaxian Probe, letting you sculpt a turn thanks to improved information. Daze and Intervene are cheap (or free) counters that allow you to run out a Delver early without fear.

The additional creatures all serve multiple purposes. Ninja of the Deep Hours is a great backup plan to flipping a spell on top. Turn-one Delver into turn-two Ninja can start a snowball of card advantage and create a “must deal with” situation. Ninja also helps to rebuy Spellstutter Sprite.

The Faerie package is subtle, but important. Cloud of Faeries provides a free way to power up Spellstutter while also cycling late if the need arises. Spellstutter is a workhorse in this deck, helping to enable Ninja while also stopping multiple threats out of Goblins and generally being a solid creature and counter.

With so few slots available, the creatures in this deck have to fill multiple roles. The creature that does the least is Delver, but attacking for three, well, that makes up for its “shortcomings.”

A quick rundown of the other cards in the deck:

Brainstorm: one of the best Eternal cards, but only a two-of in the original build. This is due, in my opinion, to the lack of shuffle effects. If this deck had access to fetchlands that did not have the “enter the battlefield tapped” clause attached, I have little doubt this would be a four-of. As it stands, two seems correct without Ponder. Brainstorm helps to set up Delver flips as well as putting unneeded cards on the top, which later can be scryed away with Preordain.

Counterspell: Remember kids, just say no.

Curse of Chains: When I first saw the list, I wondered “why Curse of Narcolepsy?” The answer hit me like a ton of bricks when looking at other top lists: Guardian of the Guildpact. Both White Weenie and Armadillo Cloak decks run this four-drop, and Curse laughs at the spirit… and its pants. Do spirits wear pants? Does it matter? Curse of Chains can also lock down opposing Ulamog’s Crushers and other threats that manage to stick.

Echoing Truth: A great catchall and maindeck out to Empty the Warrens decks. Quite strong against WW as well, thanks to their removal consisting primarily of Journey to Nowhere.

Gush: “Free” card draw that helps reset land drops. It is often right to cast this on your own turn to be able to access an untapped Island if you would otherwise miss a land drop.

Preordain: Helps to set up Delver, turns more hands into keeps, and helps to get rid of the Brainstorm chaff.

Think Twice: When cast early, Think Twice helps to dig deeper into your deck, acting as a poor version of Preordain or Brainstorm. The second time around, it helps to restock your hand. The biggest strike against this card is its cost, which is prohibitive in a deck with such a low land count.

The sideboard is incredibly tight, with cards filling multiple roles. Curfew is a great answer to All-INfect which tends to create a shrouded monster, but also does nicely against decks going all-in on an Ulamog’s Crusher. Steel Sabotage shines against Affinity but also works wonders against more traditional Mono-Blue Control builds that run Spire Golem and Serrated Arrows, both of which are terrible news for this deck’s main source of offense. Dispel helps to win counter wars while protecting threats. The remaining Curse of Chains and Echoing Truths come in where you want all four of each (obviously), and Hydroblast is for anything red (combo and Goblins leap to mind).

The deck has a very scripted line of play that breaks down to the following question: Delver or no? If your opening hand has a Delver, the goal is to get it on to the board, transform the beater, and make sure it connects often enough to win you the game. Without a Delver, you play a far more controlling game, keeping threats off the board while crafting your hand. Sometimes it will pay to flash out a Spellstutter and go on the aggressive with a Ninja, giving you more options.

The problem lies in the fact that the deck is very reliant on an early Delver. Daze, a key card early, gets weaker as the game progresses, and with it the control game diminishes. While the Delver deck does a decent job of playing Draw-Go, it wants to start turning guys sideways early and is crafted to do just that.

After playing the deck for over a week, I came to a few conclusions:

  1. Ninja of the Deep Hours is very clunky without a Spellstutter to return.
  2. Think Twice is too expensive to be reliably cast on turn two without help
  3. Brainstorm really wants a shuffle effect

These three items led me to cut one Think Twice and one Ninja for two Ponders. The deck runs far smoother now, and the ability to shuffle away dead cards from Brainstorm or three peeks you just do not want is huge.

The biggest threat to this deck just so happens to be one of the most popular Pauper decks currently, and that is Goblins. Delver Blue likes trading one for one while building an incremental advantage, but Goblins is able to just vomit up tons of creatures. While a Sprite might catch one, and an early Delver can cause problems, one Sparksmith can ruin your day. Hydroblasts are a must, but I have also been tinkering with Piracy Charm. A surprising number of important Pauper creatures are X/1, and Charm may warrant a maindeck inclusion. By comparison, slower decks often run Serrated Arrows (another card you do not want to see) to take out three such offenders.

This deck is highly mutable. With so many one-mana filtering spells, I am not confident that the proper suite has been found out. However, I would not go below 22 instants and sorceries to help ensure regular transformations.

Looking forward to Masque’s block (which MTGO will be getting all at once), there are two cards that jump to mind for this deck. The first is Waterfront Bouncer, as a way to turn excess lands (which will exist) into Unsummons. The second is Accumulated Knowledge. When it comes online, I am going to replace Think Twice and another card with a full set of AKs. The first one is the same as the front side of Think Twice, but each subsequent Knowledge is actual card advantage.

If one wanted to experiment with other colors, there are a few challenges. The first is that adding a second color would mean adding more land to increase the chances of hitting the proper color, which would mean sacrificing creatures or spells—neither of which is an enticing prospect. Arguments could be made for using different colors, however:

White: White gives some answers to Delver’s big problem: Goblins. Lone Missionary is on curve, provides a nice life boost, and is a decent body to trade. White also gives access to Sunlance. While Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring are stronger, Sunlance has the added benefit of being a spell, which would help to trigger Delver. This deck would be a fine home for Squadron Hawk, as it would provide a steady stream of threats while also increasing the density of spells in your deck. Safewright Quest would be able to function as a pseudo-land, supplementing the one-mana cantrips while helping to keep the literal land count low. Finally, if the deck wanted a full suite of them, this deck could go up to 12 Force Spikes thanks to the aforementioned instant, Daze, and Mana Tithe.

Black: The real reason to go black is cheap removal. Ghastly Demise, Disfigure, Vendetta, and Innocent Blood all are reasonable inclusions, three of them dealing with just about any threat that could be presented. Unlike white, there is no “spell land,” which would necessitate a higher concentration of lands.

If pairing Delver with another color, I would avoid black, however. Dimir tends towards midrange and control strategies in Pauper, and Delver plays the tempo game. While Recoil is nice, it is too slow to make an impact, and you would need to take a lot of trips to Magical Christmas Land for it to work as desired.

Red: Red presents an interesting option for Delver decks. Delver wants a deck to be packed with spells, as does a very potent red creature: Kiln Fiend. Delver into Kiln Fiend with burn or counter backup is a very quick and explosive clock. If there was another strong creature in this mold, I could justify building an Izzet Delver deck.

Wee Dragonauts does spring to mind, but costs three and is not threatening on its own. The Dragonauts have seen play, but almost always accompanied by Clout of the Dominus for hasty shrouded beats.

Green: Green has access to Safewright Quest, like white, but will shortly have Land Grant. Eight “spell lands” could help keep the land count down. Green also has Werebear, which is a great way to make use of all those one-mana filter spells that will surely litter your graveyard. Green also has great spells that protect a threat in Vines of Vastwood (which can double as an “I win” card). Green is able to play the tempo game well since its creatures are larger than others at comparable cost, and it is great at protecting them. In the days when Pauper was a player-run event, a U/G Madness derivative known as Deep Dog made the rounds and was a solid contender for a period of time, focusing on Wild Mongrel, Basking Rootwalla, Deep Analysis, and countermagic. Delver of Secrets provides a strong one-drop for the deck, and if the mana can be solved, could lead to a return of the deck.

Delver of Secrets has opened up deckbuilding possibilities in Pauper. By providing a nearly independent turn-one threat, it has given brewers the chance to try their hand at aggro-control, a deck largely absent from the Pauper meta. With the release of Masques Block, this style of deck is going to get a few more tools and may be able to make a name for itself.


Keep slingin’ commons-


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