Initial Impact Of Dragon’s Maze On Pauper

Find out which cards from Dragon’s Maze are affecting the Pauper format from commons-only specialist Alex Ullman!

Dragon’s Maze is here and is making its presence felt in Pauper. Pauper is slow to adapt to new cards, as the reward for being on the cutting edge of tech is lower than running out something tried and true. The new card smell still lingers, and while only a few cards have seen play thus far, the impact of one in particular is helping to change the landscape of the format: Nivix Cyclops.

The Cyclops deck is not new. It did not spring forth from Dragon’s Maze alone, but rather it evolved over time. It has deep roots from the earliest days of Pauper as a sanctioned format. In the second Pauper Premier Event ever, ghweiss ran this brew to a 17th place finish:

This deck attacked from multiple angles. It could present an Invisible Stalker + Butcher’s Cleaver level of annoyance in Riverfall Mimic and Clout of the Dominus. Wee Dragonauts could go over the top, carrying the Clout or just the power boost from cheap spells. It could play the two-for-one game with Izzet Chronarch and Steamcore Weird and draw tons of cards and sculpt a long game with Kaervek’s Torch. Quite the versatile stack. This list never quite caught on, hindered by mana woes. Wee Dragonauts could not support a deck on its own, and the Clout + Mimic plan relied too much sequential draws.

The addition of Izzet Guildgate in Return to Ravnica gave Wee Dragonauts a second chance. The printing of two other spell-friendly creatures, Kiln Fiend and Delver of Secrets, gave mages a reason to fill a deck with cheap spells. One-mana killers such as Shadow Rift, Artful Dodge, and Distortion Strike allowed the deck to crack for a ton of damage with either Wee Dragonauts or a Kiln Fiend, and the Guildgate tied it all together. These decks looked like the Nivix Cyclops version presented below, only with Wee Dragonauts taking the spots occupied by Cyclops.

Unlike other two-color decks in Pauper, WeeFiend (as it was called) wanted early access to at least one source of colored mana for both its colors. The fact that a turn 2 Kiln Fiend represented a potential ten damage (and that is not counting Lightning Bolts in hand) meant that a tempo loss from developing better mana was well worth the wait, and Izzet Guildgate was key in aiding this plan.

Who cares about wasting turn 1 when you can easily win on turn 4—through blockers?

The deck did not take off until Nivix Cyclops replaced Wee Dragonauts. Why? The Cyclops is far hardier—in a format where Lightning Bolt is commonplace, four toughness is key. The fact that Nivix Cyclops has defender rarely comes into play since you will be casting spells so often that line of text might as well not exist. The Clops also is a far better blocker and with some fancy instants can actually take down most creatures that would be attacking, namely the dangerous Myr Enforcer and Carapace Forger. Wee Dragonauts can fly, but with the ability to make a Cyclops unblockable, flying matters far less than the additional point of temporary power. Here is a successful version of the Nivix Cyclops deck:

Assault Strobe is a sick one, effectively dealing eight damage for one red. Chaining Preordains and Ponders not only increases the quality of spells you are casting, but they also come with free Lava Spikes. The deck is a finely tuned machine with a sweet backup plan featuring Delver of Secrets. The Cyclops deck is straightforward and does a fine job of protecting the investment with Apostle’s Blessing or Dispel after sideboarding. The deck is simple and effective.

The deck is also resilient. While it only runs twelve creatures (some run thirteen with a single Wee Dragonauts), it only needs to stick one of Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops to present a true threat. Apostle’s Blessing is nice on offense and also saves the precious cargo from removal. In the early game, wasting a turn to try to kill a Fiend or Cyclops, only to have it countered, can be devastating and game ending.

This deck is the new clock of the format. In the wake of the removal of Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens, and Invigorate, Affinity and Stompy decks rose to take the position of “fastest kill.” For the past few months these machines of the metal and green variety have been dominating the beatdown end of the spectrum. NivixFiend has changed that, providing a deck that like Infect of old can win from nowhere. Almost as important is the fact that it can go under Temporal Fissure combo decks and win before they can cast a one-sided Upheaval. This deck is the real deal, and as long as there cheap red and blue spells are printed, this deck will never be far from memory.

The second deck to make use of the gifts of Dragon’s Maze is Goblins. No, the deck is not finding space for Riot Piker. Rather, it’s looking to Weapon Surge.

Weapon Surge appears to be a piece of personal flair, but digging deeper it has some serious applications. Dynacharge has existed for the better part of a year and is a better Overrun. The reasoning behind this seems to be (shocker) the metagame. As mentioned above, Myr Enforcer and Carapace Forger are quite formidable foes from Affinity. The other big aggro deck is Stompy, which utilizes cards like Safehold Elite and Young Wolf to turn one creature into two cards.

When combined with cards like Death Spark, Weapon Surge can help any assaulting Goblin horde trade up in combat. This is huge since Goblins needs its creatures to, ya know, win. In the late game, many players prepare for a single Goblin Bushwhacker, protecting their life totals from the inevitable +1/+0 boost. The ability to pull a “gotcha!” on players who feel they are prepared with a simple instant can lead to some nice wins and frustrated opponents.

The latest successful deck to pull from Dragon’s Maze is this midrange brew from noted Pauper grinder and deckbuilder Deluxeicoff:

The history of this deck is recorded on Deluxeicoff’s Facebook page. What started as a hyperlinear Nightsky Mimic deck evolved into one that leans heavily on extort and cheap spells to grind out wins. With thirteen different creatures with extort and only five cards that cost more than two mana, Grey Ghost (as dubbed by its creator) can nickel and dime an opponent to a loss.

The deck is pretty straightforward: creatures and removal. Raven’s Crime is quite the slick inclusion, transforming excess land into spells and more extort triggers. Raven’s Crime helps to facilitate Quicksand, which otherwise does not turn on extort. The option of transforming removal into discard and a leech is potent.

This is an extort deck, not a Tithe Drinker deck, as it is maxed out on the Gatecrash monocolor two-drops. This is a concession to the mana of the format and the fact that the deck is biased towards black, what with Crypt Rats and all. It is not a Rats deck looking to grind out advantage via discard. Rather, it seeks to attack the creatures of the format and allow its undersized army to tax an adversary to their doom.

The three decks highlighted thus far display just how prevalent creatures are in the current Pauper metagame. NivixFiend is a creature-based combo deck and is succeeding at current levels due to the potency of its namesake. Goblins added Weapon Surge to win creature battles, and Grey Ghost wins on the back of combining removal with extort triggers like oh so many games of Gatecrash Limited. It is a nice shift from the old world order of Storm combo to see the type line “creature” matter.

This last deck is my take on using a card from Dragon’s Maze as a build around. In my review, I completely missed Pilfered Plans. In the right deck, Pilfered Plans becomes a draw four for three mana, which is a better rate than any other single card in Pauper. Rather than revive my take on aggressive Dimir lists, I decided to put Plans in a Rats shell. The results have been promising:

This deck operates like most Rats lists, chaining together disruptive cheap creatures and using removal to clear the path for victory two life points at a time. Pilfered Plans in conjunction with Unearth and Grim Harvest supercharges this plan. The idea behind the deck is to not have cards you mind seeing end up in the bin. Rotting Rats is a concession to wanting something else to do on the second turn and does a fine impersonation of Ravenous Rats.

Cavern Harpy is the backbone of the always casual, never tier 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours / Ravenous Rats deck, but here it shines as in its lone star status. Drawing multiples of Cavern Harpy is awkward, as it prevents you from advancing your board position. In this shell, the one Harpy is functionally quite a few more thanks to Unearth and Grim Harvest.

The removal suite is largely fluid. The goal is (obviously[?]) to kill the most common threats, which Doom Blade and Victim of Night handle rather well. In early testing with only two Tendrils of Corruption, I found myself taking too much damage early. I went with Feast of Flesh because it answers most early drops by itself (and drawing multiples is just sweet) and milling one with Pilfered Plans is not the worst. I would have liked to fit in one copy of Crippling Fatigue, but the life loss, especially early when you want to be killing creatures, was too much to overcome.

Raven’s Crime and Think Twice round out the graveyard suite. Deep Analysis suffers from the same problem as Crippling Fatigue. Raven’s Crime gets the nod over Oona’s Grace due to the nature of Rats decks; if the goal is to strip an opponent of resources, trading one land for another discard furthers that plan. Oona’s Grace also requires a much larger mana investment, and this deck really wants to keep mana available late (when Grace is at its best) for Grim Harvest recursion.

While the format is still adjusting to the addition of cards from Dragon’s Maze, some Pauper players are already eager for the upcoming core set. Me? I am happy to pore over the cards already out and to try to find ways to make them work.

Keep slingin’ commons-


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