Post-Banning Pauper And Tortured Existence Decks

Alex Ullman covers the results of the first Pauper Premier Event on Magic Online, and some awesome decks are popping up now that Frantic Search and the old Frantic storm combo deck are gone.

The first Pauper Premier event since the banning of Frantic Search is in the books. The top eight looked something like this:

2x MBC (including the first-place list)
2x Infect Aggro
1x Stompy
1x GW Hate
1x BG Tortured Existence
1x Fish

These decks are not new—they all existed in one form or another prior to the banning of Frantic Search. The absence of Frantic Search has slowed the format down enough so that decks that take a little more time to get going are viable options—note the two two-color decks.

Starting in first place, Mono-Black Control:

A fairly standard list, Adherent eschewed Unearth in favor of additional removal. With the fall of Frantic Storm, certain combo players picked up decks that could power out multiple copies of Empty the Warrens, which explains the maindeck presence of Echoing Decay. The creature suite is fairly standard, but the presence of Okiba-Gang Shinobi is indicative that this deck is prepared to fight control. Geth’s Verdict main and Diabolic Edict side reinforce this thought, as both do a swell job of taking out otherwise hard-to-deal-with control threats.

The only other card in this 75 that stands out is Relic of Progenitus. Pauper is a format where resources are scarce, and as will be discussed later, utilizing the graveyard is a great way to gain maximum value out of playing with commons. Relic does a great job of fighting graveyard strategies both incrementally and in one fell swoop, which is why it gets the nod over Nihil Spellbomb.

On the way to first place, Adherent won the mirror match, Infect, and Stompy.

The eighth-place list showcases a slightly different take on MBC. Darnold141 came ready to fight aggressive decks—Disfigure main and Serrated Arrows side demonstrate this. The sideboard here is designed to fight attrition games with the Arrows, but also thanks to Grim Harvest. Once the Harvest is going, it can be hard to stop. That being said, another deck packing Relic means bad times for graveyard strategies.

This can explain the lack of Unearth. When decks target the graveyard, the value added by returning a Rat to play pales to a wasted card (even if it does cycle). The risk of getting nothing for the investment is no longer worth it, as early turns where one needs to Rat twice, often a key play against combo, are not as vital as they once were.

Why did Adherent win the mirror? While I did not see the games, from their lists, it can be inferred that Adherent was better prepared for control. While MBC mirrors can often come down to who can establish a Grim Harvest advantage (and Adherent was not running the card at all), the first-place list had far stronger discard, going with two Shinobi main and three Wrench Mind in the sideboard. Knocking out two cards is huge, even if they are not selected at random. DArnold131 also had three blanks in the board, as Doom Blade is useless in the matchup.

A fairly standard Stompy list, but the presence of three Shinen of Life’s Roar main are telling. The Shinen is a key card for punching through stalled boards, which happens most often against Goblins. The key is to lay the spirit with a Gather Courage in hand, draw a Lightning Bolt and protect the Shinen, and crack back for the win. It can also pick off creatures when combined with Quirion Ranger, targeting an opponent’s creature with the untap ability. When combined with sideboard Shield of the Oversoul, a Shinen can slowly, but surely, pick off every blocker in time, clearing a path to victory.

On the way to the finals, ltbarn02 took out Infect and GW Hate.

Now this is an interesting deck. Reminiscent of the pre-New Phyrexia Infect lists, this deck runs a Crop Rotation package, which serves as additional protection with Sejiri Steppe or pump with Teetering Peaks. It also allows for the opportunity to take to the skies in games two and three, thanks to Soaring Seacliff. Noticeably absent from this list, however, is Apostle’s Blessing, a cheap way to protect creatures in addition to Vines and Steppe.

The four Gitaxian Probe are a nice touch, as they enable Infect’s signature all-in turn without fear of repercussion. The Llanowar Augur is a holdover from the olden days, before Glistener Elf, that can provide a significant boost on the planned final turn. It can also serve as a distraction, targeting a second creature to draw removal.

A more traditional Infect list, complete with Apostle’s Blessing. Unlike the third-place list, this deck has more resiliency in creatures rather than spells, but loses explosive starts due to the lack of Lotus Petal. It also cannot get a free Peak, meaning that it has to go all-in blind. MakingSmartPlays is also better equipped for the long game out of the sideboard, featuring Corpse Cur to help keep the threats coming.

Both these decks featured Fog, Hornet Sting, and Sandstorm in their sideboards.  Fog is a bullet, cast during their alpha strike when your crack back wins the game. Hornet Sting is a scalpel, picking off key small creatures (like an opposing Glistener Elf). Sandstorm helps to fight swarms but is at its best when facing down a horde of Empty the Warrens tokens. It does not matter how many spells they cast when you have access to a green sweeper. Color pie be damned.

Sometimes called GW Cloak, this deck is Pauper’s approximation of hate bears. The point is to build an unstoppable monster, suiting up a gold creature with Shield of the Oversoul, then an Armadillo Cloak. Alternatively, it can just put the Cloak on a Guardian of the Guildpact and not-so-slowly destroy an opposing life total. It is strategies like this that warrant the inclusion of edict effects in MBC.

GW Hate has to be properly positioned in order to succeed, as red decks like Goblins and MBC need to be prevalent. This deck took out BG Tortured Existence in the top 8.

Skipping to 6th place, we see the latest blue deck. Far more aggressive than old blue control, Fish relies on never paying full price unless it has to do so. Errant Ephemeron and Spire Golem both come at a reduced cost for what they are, and the Faerie package allows Fish to play threats on the opponent’s turn, saving mana for counterspells. Ninja of the Deep Hours allows the rebuy of creatures such as Spellstutter Sprite and Mulldrifter for twice as nice value, and when combined with Spire Golem allows the blue mage to eke out some extra damage while not giving up on defense, provided there are six Islands in play.

The sideboard is well positioned to fight both aggro and control. Dispel takes out most removal spells and also throws pump spells off track. Oona’s Gatewarden provides a solid wall. The Trinket Mage package is interesting, as it allows Fish to gain advantage against both control with Explorer’s Scope and aggro with Sylvok Lifestaff. This deck is quite strong and, like MBC, can have game against just about anything.

Saving the most interesting for last, Tortured Existence is a powerhouse of a deck. A fringe player during the time of Frantic Storm, mostly because it takes some time to get going, this style of deck, based around the one-mana enchantment, is set up for long-game dominance. That being said, the Golgari version has access to one of the best two-drops in Putrid Leech, blunting attacks or going on the offense.

Tortured Existence decks revolve around the eponymous enchantment. With TE in play, the graveyard becomes a tool box. This makes cards with Dredge like Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Brownscale incredibly valuable, as they are fuel for tutoring and also provide more options in the bin—a TE with two Brownscales in the yard will also render it very difficult for an aggressive deck to punch through tapping a Swamp to gain two life.

Basking Rootwalla and Grave Scrabbler allow TE to get a creature back without actually losing one. In the case of Scrabbler, paying 1BB gets a Morbid Plunder and a 2/2. Wild Mongrel and Vampire Hounds provide a way to fill the yard with creatures (or in the case of Mongrel, extraneous Tortured Existences) and win through damage. Vampire Hounds can get especially nasty when combined with Grave Scrabbler and can sometimes win the game from nowhere.

Any Tortured Existence deck has to begin with four copies of the key enchantment—while the deck above can function without the namesake, it does a poor impression of the Rock when operating without a full tank. After this, the deck wants at least six Dredge cards, four of which are Stinkweed Imp—in more aggressive metas, a fourth Brownscale also makes sense. These are vital as they can help fill the yard while blunting assaults.

Grave Scrabbler is a must, as it can provide such a huge swing in card advantage and tempo. While the above deck runs three, I personally advocate four, as chaining multiples together can prove quite annoying for anyone staring at the grinning Zombie. The only other mandatory creature is Vampire Hounds, both as a win condition and discard outlet.

Every other slot in the deck is either mana, protection, or more likely, a creature. The creatures are wholly dependent on what the expected field is, which lends power to the deck. Aside from Mystical Teachings and Trinket Mage, there are no great ways to tutor in Pauper. Tortured Existence breaks this rule, provided you want to tutor for creatures. The only other key component is a way to consistently discard cards above and beyond the Hounds and TE.

Golgari is a logical guild for such a deck, as both Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla fit the theme well. That being said, green lacks in taking creatures off the board, and looking at the decks from the recent Premier Event, creatures are all the rage. With that in mind, here is a different take on Tortured Existence I have been testing:

This version has proven strong against creatures, as they cannot easily punch through. Ghitu Slinger is a beating against many creatures and often comes back for more thanks to Unearth.

Some notes on other card choices:

Stingscourger is fantastic against decks packing Ulamog’s Crusher. The echo allows you to let this die, keeping their big threat off the board.

Vithian Stinger is more damage and a pinger that is easily castable in this heavy black deck.

Rotting Rats is the additional discard outlet. I am a huge fan of this card, as they often net two cards from a control player while you will not be down anything that actually matters.

Carrion Feeder works so well with getting maximum value out of creatures on the battlefield. Yes, things will die, but they do not have to die in vain. Even without damage on stack, chump blocking and then growing the Zombie will often create a monster in a hurry. Winning on the back of this one-drop is rather common.

Mogg War Marshal does it all, blocking when the need arises or providing a steady stream of tokens to help eat life totals late.

I favor this version, as it is stronger against aggressive decks, both with blocking and with the Slingers. That being said, it does give up some against the big mana decks that do not run Ulamog’s Crushers.

Tortured Existence is a fantastic card and a deckbuilder’s dream. With the format slowing down, it would not surprise me to see decks of all potential color combinations be built around this little engine that could. I mean, Tortured Existence and Squadron Hawks seems kind of nice, right?

Keep slingin’ commons-


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