When I started playing Pauper, I was a college student on a strict budget. My Magic Online paid play was largely limited to leagues (remember those?) and the occasional large Sealed Premier Event. I loved deckbuilding formats, however, so I played a ton of Singleton and Prismatic in the casual room. After a while, it became glaringly apparent that to stand a chance of winning games for fun I would have to spend far more than my budget allowed. That, in part, is what attracted me to Pauper. For a fraction of the cost, I was able to build an incredibly diverse array of competitive decks, and acquiring new cards with each set release was a ten dollar investment.
Time, however, is not stagnant. The format evolved, got sanctioned, and the harder to find commons became quite pricey. As the level of competition rose (influenced by prize support), the variety of decks also diminished. This is not unexpected—with prizes on the line, the best decks will often rise to the top, and when the purse is at a certain level, picking something that is known to be "good" is a better investment than brewing up the new hotness. But this is not the way things have to be.
A few weeks ago, I made a short list of cards I want to make work in competitive Pauper. So I guess it is now time to put my money where my mouth is...or whatever.
First up, Faithless Looting.
This card gives red access to an incredibly potent card selection tool. While not card advantage per se, it gives decks the chance to increase card quality by digging for the right tool and getting rid of ones that are just not needed at the moment (this does not take into account decks built to take full advantage of Faithless Looting, which I will get to shortly). Unlike its blue cousins Ponder and Preordain, Faithless Looting does not put cards back into the library for later use—once they are cast aside, they are gone for good (bear with me). It does have flashback, so paying the full price lets you see four cards—as many as Ponder—however, that can be done over two turns. For this first exercise, gone is gone for good. Take a look at this list:
- 3 Oxidda Golem
- 4 Vault Skirge
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 1 Inner-Flame Acolyte
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 19 Mountain
This was my weapon of choice for the end of last year. In this deck, Faithless Looting did a lot of work. In that iteration of Red Deck Wins, Looting afforded the opportunity to increase the quality of any draw by letting go of sometimes dead cards (Furor of the Bitten, Electrickery, Mountain) and drawing towards the overwhelming endgame of Fireblast. This is the best example of the Ponder analog.
In any deck where it does not synergize (beyond, y'know, drawing cards), Faithless Looting helps you find exactly what you need to enact a game-ending plan. In a deck like the one listed above, this gives the pilot the opportunity to run cards that are much needed for tough matchups yet dead against others and gives them the ability to be converted to live cards later. Electrickery was one such card, blanking the tokens generated by Empty the Warrens.
While this list is outdated, the reasoning it is built on is sound. Establishing a threat early and a burn backup has always been a plan, and Pauper is no exception. While Electrickery might not be the best option now, there are plenty of other choices for maindeck board bullets:
- Magma Spray / Pillar of Flame to take care of Young Wolf and other small critters.
- Molten Rain to aid the fight against Cloudpost decks. Going deeper, there's Icefall, which has the added bonus of Recover
- Firebolt / Lava Dart / Geistflame / Flame Jab to help lessen the sting of lost cards.
- Pyroblast because maybe you just hate blue decks.
While Red Deck Wins makes good use of Faithless Looting, it does not maximize the spell's capabilities. Being frank, one of the reasons you discard spells is because sometimes they belong in the graveyard. In these instances, Looting is more of a draw four than a card that nets zero cards in the positive column.
The poster child for such a card is Deep Analysis. Discarding a Deep Analysis and paying only the flashback cost is a reasonable rate. The front side of Analysis is not so abhorrently expensive that you would be ashamed to be caught paying full price. Blue also has a number of other spells that benefit from being binned, from the powerhouse Accumulated Knowledge to Deep Analysis' little sibling Think Twice. Using these spells, it is not hard to build a core draw engine around Faithless Looting.
Building from there, it makes sense to avoid the Cloudpost engine. This mana engine, while dominating in the late game, needs all of its pieces to work properly. While the plan is that you will be discarding for value, sometimes things do not go according to plan and losing a key piece of a mana engine does not bode well.
Utilizing the Mnemonic Wall / Ghostly Flicker advantage machine makes sense in this deck as well since losing a Flicker early is not the worst thing you can be doing. This also allows the deck to run a series of bullets that can be retrieved later off of a Mnemonic Wall, so cards like Harvest Pyre and Flame Slash become reasonable inclusions for their utility.
Rounding out the deck comes the kill card. Without Cloudpost, Ulamog's Crusher, Rolling Thunder, and the Capsize lock all seem like pipe dreams. Rather, looking to Pauper's past, the answer might be found in Errant Ephemeron. The illusion comes at a steep discount early (while still being able to leave counter mana available). On that note, it probably also makes sense to run a Grim Harvest and splash black, helping to ensure our game ender sticks around long enough to end the game. This gives us the rough sketch of:
This is just a start, but it shows what a control deck built around Faithless Looting could look like. If the metagame shifts towards being more creature based, swapping out some blue for black could yield a surplus of removal including Crippling Fatigue and Strangling Soot. The ability to discard cards yet still play with them in your hand breaks the limit of seven and provides a significant advantage—provided you can avoid a Bojuka Bog.
Faithless Looting can also be used to facilitate a Reanimator strategy in Pauper. Traditionally, Reanimator is a pseudo combo deck, using discard outlets and cheap spells to cheat large threats into play. These threats have usually been significantly disruptive (think Iona, Shield of Emeria), fantastic beaters (Akroma, Angel of Wrath), or a source of immense advantage (Griselbrand).
Yeah, Pauper does not have these.
In fact, Pauper only has two reanimaton spells that can get creatures into play at a discount in Unearth and Exhume (Stir the Grave exists, but adding an extra mana is no one's idea of a good time [unless we're talking triple Scourge Draft]). While the latter is a key card in more powered formats, the former can only get creatures that cost three or less. In the hope of being able to hit no matter what is in the graveyard, this presents an issue. No creatures available in Pauper are large enough to win the game on their own while also being cheap. Rather, the successful Unearth decks are all able to cast their key cards and use Unearth to gain additional disruptive value.
If I was going to start building a Pauper Reanimator deck, I would definitely bias my creatures towards those that could hit hard and those that could stop my opponent. In red, this gives cards like Inner-Flame Acolyte and Keldon Marauders, which both do a fine job while paying full price and are reasonable to get back later. In black, Chittering Rats and Mesmeric Fiend are both fine at the disruption game, and Skittering Horror is an undercosted monster that survives if a creature enters from the graveyard. The final card I would be looking at is Viashino Firstblade. While Boros in color, it is easy enough to include a few Orzhov and Boros Guildgates to help facilitate casting this monster, who hits hard and fast and sticks around. Perhaps something like this to get started:
Another starting point, this deck has the capability of hitting hard and fast with pseudo Ball Lightnings sticking around after the fact. While it may not hold a candle to some of the best decks, it certainly is fun to crunch for four on turn 2 and then six on turn 3.
I'm going to close today with what has been my most successful attempt at a Faithless Looting deck to date. This is the evolution of the deck from the end of my Grab Bag article. At the time that article went live, I had already made some pretty major alterations to the deck, the largest of which was adding Fume Spitter. This card does so much work in Pauper—blocking early beats while answering so many problem creatures early. The little Horror that could is a key card in multiple black decks, providing them with much needed time.
The other big addition was Death Spark. This card, so key in helping Goblins grind out wins, is incredibly valuable. One damage may not seem like a lot, but the nicks add up. At the end of the game, your opponent may be wondering exactly how you did so much damage.
Here is my latest build of Song of Blood:
- 1 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 4 Carrion Feeder
- 4 Dregscape Zombie
- 4 Fume Spitter
- 2 Inner-Flame Acolyte
- 3 Kruin Striker
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Rotting Rats
- 4 Viscera Dragger
This deck is far more aggressive than any list presented today. Rather than trying to preserve early threats, this deck is all about the Big Turn. The early game is about survival, dumping creatures into the graveyard, and making seemingly poor attacks to help grow a Carrion Feeder. When Song of Blood resolves, the creatures come back en masse and attack for an absolute ton of damage.
Rotting Rats is one of the unsung heroes of this deck. While it is the weakest card in terms of power, the ability to be an uncounterable source of discard pays dividends against decks attempting to hoard cards.
And tying it all together is Faithless Looting, helping you dig to the key creatures and filter away lands. Sure, nothing has flashback, but when you cast Looting and bin two Dregscape Zombies, sometimes you can hear the gulp of your opponent through the Internet.
My faith has been restored in brewing in Pauper. While not every digital stack of 60 is going to break the format, given enough time and effort, practice and tuning, a good deck can be worth running out there for wins. And besides, sometimes it is okay to just have fun and embrace your darlings.
Keep slingin' commons-
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
The Colors of Pauper: