Thank God It’s FNM: W/U Puresteel Paladin

Today AJ Kerrigan goes over how he tuned W/U Puresteel Paladin into the version he currently loves. See if you should try it this weekend at the SCG Standard Open in Minneapolis or SCG Classic Series: Knoxville!

I’ll be honest; I’m a Delver player at heart. I may masquerade every Friday like my name is Timmy, but really I just love attacking with some 3/2 fliers. This does not mean that I don’t like having some fun though. That has always been my favorite part of Friday Night Magic. Whenever I can get the cards to express my imagination, I can bring my brew to life in an environment that is both competitive and relaxed. Sometimes I do the same thing on Magic Online too. While I can often be found playing Delver of Secrets in Standard Daily Events, I will dabble from time to time in the rogue arts.

This past Sunday, I decided that I wanted to try a couple different rogue decks just to take a break from Delver. The first deck I tried was a Battle of Wits deck that Michael Flores wrote about. I cashed with that deck, so I decided to continue trying different decks. Next up was Goblins, which I also cashed with. I was beginning to really like playing these rogue decks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decide which deck to try next. Originally it was going to be Heartless Summoning, but after a quick look at the deck it didn’t really seem to fit my “style.” Some friends recommended decks ranging from Mono-Black Post to U/R Spelltwine / Worldfire combo.

It was only about ten minutes before the next Daily Event started that it finally hit me. A few weeks prior, I had seen someone piloting a deck using a long forgotten rare…Puresteel Paladin. I also remembered that it was featured as a daily deck on the mothership. It seemed like a pretty cool deck to try out, so I gave the following list a try.

I’m going to do something a little different this week. Instead of taking a deck and talking about the matches I played with it at FNM or on Magic Online, I want to focus on the deck and how I tuned it. When I first ran this list through a Daily Event, I cashed and went to throw it to the wayside like I did with Goblins and Battle of Wits. As I went to pick out a different deck for the next Daily, I realized that something felt different about Puresteel Paladin. It didn’t just feel like another deck that I 3-1’d with—it felt better than that. I wanted to give it another go to see if it was really a decent deck. I looked through some event results to see if I could find another list to get ideas from, and I found two. The first was basically the same exact list as the one I started with, but the other one was different.

The first difference was that the Grafdigger’s Cage was in the maindeck. At first I didn’t like the idea of the card being in the main, but after running it through an event I could see that it was very useful. It doesn’t hurt you at all to have, and it can help you turn on metalcraft much more easily. I discovered that the hardest matchup for the deck is Pod variants, and it turns out that Cage is pretty good against them because it shuts off their major engine, Birthing Pod. The games where they don’t have Pod or can’t use it are usually the games you win.

Another change from the original list was Ponder over Gitaxian Probe, which I took an immediate liking to. While this deck can play out like a combo deck at times, you are often just trying to grind out the game by turning every creature into a threat and having an engine in the form of Puresteel Paladin. Knowing your opponent’s hand isn’t very important when you don’t really care what they have. Knowing that they have a Wrath effect can be useful, but decks with Wraths aren’t very prevalent right now. Ponder makes sure that you hit the specific cards you need and helps you smooth out your mana base. Playing so many double white spells in conjunction with so many colorless lands can cause problems, but Ponder can be a solution a decent amount of the time.

Taking those ideas into account and trying out a few new sideboard cards, I made an updated list to try out.

I ran this list through some events, making some small changes as I went, and came out with some notes for the deck. I’ll start with some cards in the mainboard that I liked. For starters, Ponder was very good, but I don’t think it belongs as a four-of. I believe that the two I had is the right number because you want to draw one in a game to smooth your early or mid game draws, but you don’t want to spend your time casting multiple Ponders. I think in a different version of the deck that doesn’t have the Trinket Mage four may be right, but with Trinket Mage it is not necessary because Mage finds a lot of your one-of bullets.

Another thing I noticed was that Mirran Crusader is super sick. Against G/R Aggro and Naya Aggro, it can be very hard for them to beat with a Bonfire of the Damned and almost impossible to beat with a Sword of War and Peace on it. Against the control decks that rely on black-based removal, they need a board sweeper to be able to get rid of it and it presents a very real threat even without a Sword on it. Even against decks like Delver, it represents a decent clock if not dealt with. I tried going up to four in the maindeck but found that you only want the fourth in a few specific matchups.

Out of the sideboard, there was one card I didn’t like very much and one card I loved. The card I didn’t like was Elite Inquisitor. I felt that it was just a worse Mirran Crusader in the matchups I wanted it and was often easily dealt with. Against Zombies, for example, it holds and attacks with a Sword pretty well, but more often than not it just ate a Doom Blade. Mirran Crusader is what you really need in the matchup, and Elite Inquisitor wasn’t really a good copycat.

The card I loved in the sideboard was Spellskite, so much so that it prompted me to put it in the main. It protected Mirran Crusader and Puresteel Paladin from removal and Vapor Snags while also giving a creature with a Sword a better chance to connect. It singlehandedly made the Wolf Run Ramp matchup favorable. The games often came down to a race between my Swords and their Titans / Inkmoth Nexuses. Being able to redirect Wolf Run triggers and protect my Swords from artifact removal was insane. It’s also important to remember that it redirects pump spells from Infect, which is not a very good matchup, so Spellskite helps a ton. It also plays defense really well against aggro decks. The last thing it did quite effectively was hold equipment. Sometimes I just needed another body to hold a Sword.

Taking all of my ideas and notes into account, I came up with my current list that I have been in love with so far.

As you can see, the list hasn’t changed much from the original as far as the maindeck is concerned. I feel that the core is largely the same if you want the deck to perform well. What I want to focus on is the sideboard and why each card is in it.

Divine Offering — Sometimes decks just have artifacts that you need to kill. Sword of War and Peace can be a beating, but Divine Offering is a good answer. It also hits important artifacts like Trading Post and Birthing Pod. I like the one against Wolf Run Ramp too for hitting Sphere of the Suns and Inkmoth Nexus.

Revoke Existence — Sometimes decks just have artifacts and enchantments that you need to kill. This comes in against a lot of the same things Diving Offering does, except I don’t bring it in to fight against Runechanter’s Pikes out of Delver like I do with Divine Offering. This has the added functionality of hitting Wild Defiance, which is a problem card and a way Infect gets around Spellskites, and Curse of Death’s Hold, which can be tough to beat, especially in multiples.

Gut Shot — I found Infect and Birthing Pod were bad matchups for the deck. Stunting Birthing Pod’s early mana dork development can be really important in getting ahead in a race. Killing all of Infect’s creatures can also set them pretty far behind. It’s pretty good against Delver as well.

Mental Misstep — Good against the cards that can be irritating like Glistener Elf, Delver of Secrets, and Vapor Snag. I originally brought these in against Pod to hit mana dorks, but I found that to be incorrect as you already have Gut Shots and you need to have it turn 1 to really do anything.

Mirran Crusader — Mostly for Zombies and the green-based aggro decks. It is really hard for them to get through and is a good clock when you need it to be.

Oblivion Ring — Good against the decks that have troublesome permanents like Solar Flare, Birthing Pod, and Zombies.

Spellskite — As I said earlier, this card is good against almost everything. It is a good wall against the aggro decks, good protection against the removal heavy decks, a good way to turn races in your favor against Infect and Wolf Run Ramp, and good at many other things. It may just be right to have all four in the maindeck since I side this card in a lot, but it gets better post-board when people bring in artifact removal.

Accorder’s Shield — This basically comes in when the Mirran Crusader does except against Birthing Pod. You want to be able to leave Mirran Crusader on defense, but you also want to make sure you have a way to kill them. Accorder’s Shield lets Crusader connect and still play defense. It also pulls creatures out of Bonfire and sometimes Mutilate range. It can be found with Trinket Mage, and while the equip cost is a bit expensive, that isn’t very relevant with a Puresteel Paladin out.

Celestial Purge — It is really a tossup between this and Elite Inquisitor. I’m not really sure which is better, but I wasn’t a fan of the Inquisitor, so I’ll see how the card works out. It is more multipurpose because it also hits Curse of Death’s Hold.

As you can see, this deck is definitely not your normal blue deck. It makes me flashback to over a year ago during the Caw-Blade era when Caleb Durward championed this deck. I’m always looking to experiment with new cards that I haven’t thought of, so if you have any cool ideas or questions feel free to ask in the comments.

For tonight, I will be battling at FNM with G/W Aggro, a deck that my friend Dan lent me. The deck has been picking up a little steam with a recent SCG Standard Open win, and I definitely think it is a cool deck. As usual, continue to submit decks and post your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading, and thank god it’s FNM!

AJ Kerrigan
@AJKerrigan55 on Twitter
[email protected]