Long live Pauper!
After mentioning here that Font of Return was likely
the most Pauper-worthy common from Journey into Nyx, I simply had to find out for myself. My latest incarnation of a Pauper Font of Return deck
looks like this:
- 2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
- 4 Phyrexian Rager
- 4 Auramancer
- 4 Aven Riftwatcher
- 4 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 1 Hopeful Eidolon
Having played (and thoroughly enjoyed) Azorius Kitty, an attrition strategy with similar interactions, I find Orzhovmancer to be a rather agreeable deck.
While it still needs a fair amount of adjusting, the results it has garnered in testing have convinced me that the deck shows promise. Now that you’ve seen
the list, it’s time to talk shop! Let’s begin with Orzhovmancer’s overall game plan and key components.
The “Plan A” of this deck is twofold. First of all, we seek to win games with a superior board position. Thanks to a suite of twelve robust fliers, the
early and midgame turns can follow a pretty linear sequence (curving out with evasive threats). Complementing these threats is the other facet of our Plan
A, in which we seek to win games by exhausting the enemy of relevant resources. In this capacity Orzhovmancer resembles other Pauper attrition decks like
Azorius and Boros Kitty, and even Mono-Black Control.
Note how (like MBC) every one of our creatures is capable of generating value, either through enters-the-battlefield effects (Auramancer, Riftwatcher and
Skyfisher), draw and discard (Rager, Shinobi) or supplying extra bodies to fatigue enemy removal (Eidolon, Squadron Hawk). Cutting down multiple creatures
with Auramancer-revived Dead Weights is subtly corrosive, and the life gain resulting from bounced Kabira Crossroads and Riftwatchers is more than a minor
Our Plan B compounds the effects of our Plan A. Plan B is to “lock” opponents out with an endgame that involves Auramancer, Font of Return and up to two
other creatures. While this doesn’t work against everyone, it can be sufficiently backbreaking. Orzhovmancer’s composition amplifies the utility of Font,
since we’re effectively getting to draw more than three cards with its activated ability.
Last, we have Plan C, which comes up less often than one might think. Plan C is something right out of Standard Pauper, which I referred to in this article as “Build a Baneslayer.” The idea is to
enchant one of our creatures with Ethereal Armor and Hopeful Eidolon, bolstered by our other board-flooding enchantments (Chosen by Heliod, Font of Return,
Journey to Nowhere, Seal of Cleansing). The result is an unwieldy monster that we can stand to lose thanks to our four copies of Auramancer. It’s
interesting to think about how Ethereal Armor has made “Voltron” plans so much more viable across a number of formats, including Modern, Pauper and
Standard. This is namely due to its price tag (as the card does quite a bit for a single white mana).
I feel like the Orzhovmancer sideboard has a lot of room for improvement, as it’s pretty hard not to dilute the enchantment count when boarding against a
formidable opponent. This dilution is sometimes correct, however, since our Plan C of building a Baneslayer is not always worth the risk (we can
potentially get blown out by a timely bounce, edict, or removal spell). It’s a little less rare to board out of our creature-removing enchantments, but it
does happen. For instance, Dead Weight is more or less a joke against Selesnya Hexproof. Funnily enough, the card simultaneously grows and shrinks
Aura Gnarlid, the only relevant creature we can actually target with it!
Circle of Protection: Red might be overkill, as we are already packing four Riftwatchers, four Kabira Crossroads, and four Kor Skyfishers to bounce either.
This consequently gains us a sizable amount of life for fending off the COP: Red-prompting Pauper Burn decks. The reason I am still playing one COP: Red in
the sideboard? Our deck is slow. Sure, we might stave off their initial fiery volleys, but I’m not confident that we’ll be able to end the game on
the spot from there. As a one-of, Circle of Protection: Red feels like an acceptable (albeit narrow) hoser that may later be replaced by a more relevant
The usefulness of Circle of Protection: Black is also up for debate. While it does keep Mono-Black controllers from attacking or Corrupting us for the win,
it is sadly unable to prevent Gray Merchant of Asphodel’s devotion-counting life loss.
The MBC matchup can go a number of ways, and one of them is south. Chittering Rats, while annoying against pretty much anyone, for some reason
feels doubly effective against the Orzhovmancer deck. My current theory is as follows: because both decks lean so heavily on attrition pieces, it’s
important for us to be drawing into fresh, higher-impact cards (as opposed to the dead ones we’ve already had no real reason to play out). With enough
hard-cast or Unearthed Chittering Rats in succession, MBC can begin to slowly pull ahead and continue to develop their board.
While we can handle both the discard and one-toughness body of Liliana’s Specter with relative ease, the big deciders in many of these games are MBC’s
overall board presence and hefty Gray Merchant of Asphodel life swings. We’ll often be chipping away in the air while taking seemingly insignificant ground
hits, only to have a Gray Merchant undo most of our early-game efforts.
This is clearly a matchup where Plan A is less often going to get there and Plan B will more often need to pull through. Will we draw more Plan B
components than they will Rats, Merchants and Unearths? The answer to that question could very well decide the match. Plan C is not all that viable,
considering how much we would potentially need to play around (Geth’s Verdict, Oubliette, Tendrils of Corruption, and Victim of Night come to mind).
I’ve developed a silly habit of jamming four copies of some token land destruction spell into most of my Pauper sideboards. In this deck’s case,
Contaminated Ground at least makes some degree of sense (thanks to Auramancer and Ethereal Armor). I also imagine that it does a good deal more for us
against Pauper Tron than something like Dead Weight. It may be the case that our matchup against Tron is so bad that we shouldn’t even devote sideboard
slots to it at all. I mean, look at us, midrangey methodical against the most mana in the format (or does that title go to Esper Familiars)? We might not
have what it takes to steal two games from the Cloudpost wannabes, but if we do it’s probably thanks to Okiba-Gang Shinobi.
Enchantment hate is something that I think will be subtly increasing in Classic Pauper, namely because the format’s now maxed out on bestow and heroic
cards. This first-place deck from a Pauper Constructed queue should illustrate what I mean.
What I like with both this deck’s sideboard and Orzhovmancer’s is the diversification of enchantment hate. We’re both playing two copies of Kor Sanctifiers
because they provide a serviceable Pauper body, and synergize just fine with Kor Skyfisher (plus our deck has the additional potential of bouncing them
with Okiba-Gang Shinobi). While the Boros list has one silo loaded with a nuclear missile (in the form of Patrician’s Scorn), I don’t think we can afford
to be so extreme. There’s simply too much risk of breaking our own critical Journey to Nowheres, Ethereal Armor or Font of Return.
What we have opted for is a second copy of Seal of Cleansing, which is easily returned to us by our namesake creature. Both strategies are playing
two edict effects (Celestial Flare and Diabolic Edict), which, while not targeting an enchantment directly, can hose a massively enchanted hexproof
Now that we’ve gone over some of the sideboard components, I’d like to cover a concept that just might be useful for us in this format.
First of all, it’s possible. Second, their godliest draws can still win in spite of everything (this should come as a shock to no one). I’ve noticed that
Delver piloting skill varies quite a bit, and this can have a considerable impact on things. With all that being said, I think we’re in pretty good shape
versus Delver. Their most relevant threats are Insectile Aberration and Ninja of the Deep Hours. Their relevant blocker is Spire Golem. Aven Riftwatcher,
Dead Weight, Journey to Nowhere, Kor Skyfisher, and Squadron Hawk are all reasonable answers to the former two, with Auramancer and Phyrexian Rager also
capable of blocking Ninja. Being on the play is very good for us because we can either kill their Delver on Turn 2 or resolve Squadron Hawk, and either of
these can be really big plays.
As with Mono-Black Control, board presence is a huge aspect of this matchup, and Delver can sometimes get squashed by our Plan A of “overwhelm their
board.” Alternately, we too can get squashed by enough well-timed Spellstutter Sprites and Ninja hits. Unlike diamonds, Aven Riftwatchers aren’t forever,
and a smart Delver player will know when to patiently outlast them rather than trade. (Gasp! Should I even be saying this publicly?)
Here, at times, we play a bit like White Weenie (except without the awesome-against-Delver Icatian Javelineers…which begs the question: should
we be playing Javelineers?). What we lack is White Weenie’s raw aggression, which means we’ll usually have to be content with taking a defensive role for a
good portion of the game. In terms of sideboarding, I’ve most often been swapping out of the Plan C components (Chosen by Heliod, Ethereal Armor, Hopeful
Eidolon) and loading up on removal. Edicts, Sanctifiers, Seal. That’s right. Just pile it on. As far as strategy and tactics go? Hope to win the die roll,
try to overload their permission, and figure out what matters to them (see the relevant threats and blockers I mentioned above).
Improving this deck is a legitimate Pauper priority of mine, and all of you can help! What looks good, what looks bad, and what looks ugly? I’m eagerly
awaiting to your critiques. As we did last time, I’d like
to close with some of your thoughts (this time on the state of the format).
“I think the ideal solution for Pauper at this time is to rotate between Classic and Standard card pools on a fairly regular basis…The goal of this
would be to inject some life into the format while giving deck builders a chance to find other cards that can shine.” – Alex Ullman
“All that it takes is a couple known players to push the format, or for there to be a skit about it on Walking the Planes.” – Craig Berry
“It’s my favorite format to brew in, and its games are as intricate and rewarding as any of the other formats. I’ll continue reading Pauper articles as
long as you’re writing them–keep it up!” – Todd Dillard
Hope you’ve enjoyed. The floor is yours!