Tainted Wood Infect vs. Stompy In Pauper

Alex Ullman is back with more information about Pauper. This time he talks about two viable green decks: Infect and Stompy. Check out which one you should choose the next time you sit down to play Pauper.

One of the most exciting things I remember about my early days as a Magic player was the idea of smashing with monsters. This was back in the day of playing on the asphalt of a Brooklyn public school. The idea that I could summon these things and smash another wizard in the face, for an undersized kid like me, was tops. It should come as little surprise that green was my early favorite color.

Green quickly developed into my favorite color, period. I have quite an array of green shirts for work, multiple green ties, and a sweet pair of green Chuck Taylor All-Stars that I don’t get to wear nearly enough. I like green things, and it can be traced back to attacking with Craw Wurms.

When Pauper started as a player-run format, there was no competitive green deck. The creatures were too small and the support spells were too weak. Other colors could do stuff like kill creatures—green just made them. The earliest attempts at successful green aggro decks splashed Selesnya Sanctuary in order to play Armadillo Cloak (Rancor wasn’t yet available online). Once the best Bonesplitter ever made its way online, white was abandoned and the deck became a true contender. This was after Pauper became an officially recognized format, and former Pro Tour player Greg Weiss started winning with his Stompy list.

Quirion Ranger was the driving force behind this deck’s success. It allowed Stompy to operate on fewer lands while also providing a number of neat tricks. It could untap blockers on both ends (useful for removing pesky creatures with Shinen of Life’s Roar) and reset landfall of Groundswell.

Nettle Sentinel and Gather Courage were another key piece to the deck. With Sentinel in play, Gather Courage was free. At the time, most removal was centered on toughness (either red damage or black –X/-X effects). As such, Gather Courage played the role of a counterspell, and when combined with the Elf was almost a Force of Will. With Vines of Vastwood in the mix, Stompy was able to effectively play the Fish game—sticking and protecting a threat.

Skarrgan Pit-Skulk would often be the final thorn in the side. Suited up with Rancor, it became nigh impossible to block. Judicious use of Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood could end games quickly on the Skulker.

Weiss’s Stompy list was a solid contender and remained a viable option until the rise of Frantic Search-based Storm decks. Stompy wouldn’t be able to punch through for the final few points of damage. Once the offending cards were banned, Pauper had evolved and Stompy was left on the sidelines. Doom Blade, Flame Slash, and Grasp of Darkness were commonly played, negating the effectiveness of a Gather Courage based defense. Finally, at the end of Scars Block Glistener Elf was printed, giving Infect a viable one-drop and pushing it to a level of dominance in the “pump-spell deck” category (more on the poison menace later).

The release of Dark Ascension gave Stompy new life. Young Wolf provided an additional resilient threat that can do some serious damage while wearing the angry pants. The Wolf also functions as two creatures and like the Skulk, has a form of unblockability—who would actively want to give anyone a 2/2?

The latest lists look something like this:

This version of Stompy can be purchased for under $25 (not counting Forest) at this here very site. The deck is comparable on Magic Online, where the price of cards like Rancor and Quirion Ranger will drive the cost up.

What are the major differences?

Fewer land: The current list runs two fewer land, but also totally eschews Khalni Garden. Young Wolf fills the roll of “free creature” while not entering the battlefield tapped (as a land). The Plant token would often simply chump block, and the Wolf is possibly the best chump blocker ever (in green, anyway). The lower amount of land in turn explains the additional Quirion Ranger in the modern build.

No more Madness: The current decks have moved away from Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla. Two years ago, the threat of discarding cards to Mongrel was a bigger threat than Mongrel itself. It was uncommon to win a game with the Odyssey block all-star. The more surprising absence is Basking Rootwalla, as three power is quite large in Pauper. However, the move to Young Wolf created a glut at one, and Rootwalla, while great, isn’t as vital to the deck as Ranger, Sentinel, or Pit-Skulk.

Companion and Ledgewalker: More evasion. Ledgewalker and Rancor are a dangerous combination even in a world of Insectile Aberrations. Garruk’s Companion is difficult to block in conjunction with Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood.

More Vines: The removal is better, so the countermeasures have to be more abundant.

While the current version retains some of the Fish-like elements, it no longer occupies that slot in the metagame (thanks to Delver decks). Rather, it’s a fair aggro deck. Stompy can win early with pump, but it can also have one creature go the distance thanks to protection effects. Unlike the other aggressive decks in Pauper (Infect, Goblins), Stompy is able to both provide a steady stream of threats and protect them.

Looking at the popular decks, Stompy matches up as such:

Traditional Storm: This is a race, pure and simple. They are a turn faster, but Stompy can bring in Sandstorm and Fog, both of which eat Empty the Warrens tokens. This, in turn, can force Storm to try and win through Grapeshot, which can provide an additional turn for green to punch through.

Mono-Black Control: Here, Stompy wants to avoid playing into removal. Lead with Young Wolf when possible and always have protection for the most important threat.

Goblins/Affinity/White Weenie: These are all races. Ledgewalker and Shinen are key for finishing them off. Fog is an important sideboard card as it buys an important turn.

Infect: Similar to Goblins, but Shinen does not matter. Trading with their threats is often the right play, as they have fewer creatures than Stompy.

U/R Post: Your early game can put them on the back foot. Don’t walk into a cheap Condescend and try to overwhelm them before they can Rolling Thunder away your team. Be careful after sideboarding, as they will often bring in Steamcore Weird. If possible, hold a Pit-Skulk until after they take off another threat.

Delver: Avoid playing directly into a Spellstutter Sprite. The old trick of overloading your hand with cheap threats and baiting counters is the right way to play. In games 2 and 3, Hidden Spider can do some serious lifting, shutting down huge swaths of their offense.

As mentioned, Stompy is fair. It has a chance in any field (with the right sideboard, of course). As creatures have gotten better and more resilient, this deck too has improved. However, it’s fair. Infect, on the other hand, is anything but fair. Infect is Stompy after a binge on Pixie Sticks and Jolt Cola—it comes out fast but can crash and burn.

This deck is more expensive than Stompy to put together, coming in at around $33. Online, the cost will be driven up by key Standard cards like Gitaxian Probe and relatively rare commons like Invigorate and Rancor.

Infect, like Stompy, wants to stick a threat and protect it. Unlike Stompy, Infect only needs to deal ten damage. Because of this, the deck takes on a far more combo nature. Gitaxian Probe, a dead card in Stompy, provides vital information in this deck (Is there a shields down moment?). Infect also benefits from the Eternal nature of Pauper with Invigorate. Nearly dead in any other aggressive deck, Invigorate’s alternate cost doesn’t matter here. Four extra damage, four extra poison counters, absolutely free. That’s unfair.

The lack of creatures with infect is a limiting factor. This in turn leads to more protection-style spells. Without Quirion Ranger and Nettle Sentinel, Gather Courage is out of place. Mutagenic Growth fills this slot, alongside Apostle’s Blessing.

Laying a creature early is incredibly important. Lotus Petal helps power out the two-drops on turn 1, providing the all-important clock. Make no mistake—Infect is an aggro-combo deck that must be attacking to win. It is single minded in that it wants to do the same thing, over and over, against every deck. The game plan is always:

  1. Play creature with infect.
  2. Protect creature with infect.
  3. Pump creature enough to win.

Every game won will play out along this axis. Infect is a combo deck, but every color has a way to stop the menace. Black has Diabolic Edict style effects and traditional removal; red has burn and sweepers like Seismic Shudder; both white and green have Fog effects; blue has access to Piracy Charm or Curfew (if hexproof becomes an issue). Why does Infect succeed then? These answers are not always applicable to the metagame at large and Infect can win rather quickly—turn 2 kills aren’t rare. In these instances, the opponent maybe didn’t mulligan aggressively enough, and that’s costly.

So which should you play? Infect can “just win” and has rote routes to victory. It’s consistent, provided you mulligan aggressively, but also relatively easy to disrupt. The lack of threats makes it possible to simply exhaust Infect’s resources (some decks try to mitigate this by running Corpse Cur in the sideboard), but a deck like Goblins can wreak havoc with just one Death Spark.

Stompy, on the other hand, is fair and wins by attacking. It’s not the best deck at attacking, but has more avenues of play and doesn’t deal itself nearly as much damage (note the lack of Phyrexian mana). It has more lines of play to it thanks to Quirion Ranger, Nettle Sentinel, Shinen of Life’s Roar, and the ability to play multiple threats with success. It’s also more resilient to removal due to the denser population of monsters.

Breaking it down, Infect is the deck to run if you’re expecting a field of other blitzkrieg decks. It can overwhelm Storm combo and Goblins early and can go toe-to-toe with Affinity. Stompy, on the other hand, is better situated against Delver decks, U/R Post, and MBC. Either way, these are valid reasons to be sleeving up Forests for your next Pauper event.

Keep slingin’ commons-


SpikeBoyM on Magic Online

@nerdtothecore on Twitter

An Introduction to Pauper

The Colors of Pauper: