There is a cloud lingering over Pauper. A storm cloud.
The reality is that at the moment Cloudpost decks and Temporal Fissure decks are dominating the metagame. Cloudpost's dominance is in no small part due to Temporal Fissure, as arguably the most successful combo deck in the format currently runs both.
This deck does all sorts of unfair things. First off, it's a blue deck in an Eternal format, giving it access to some of the best cards from the history of Magic. Preordain, Compulsive Research, Mulldrifter—you can almost hear the Island mages salivate. However, this is not a control deck. Fissure Post is far more analogous to a hypermana combo deck. While not a perfect translation of Zvi Moshowitz's theory of deckbuilding, parallels can be drawn.
This is a big mana deck. Expedition Map exists solely to fuel the Cloudpost engine, while cards like Preordain, Sea Gate Oracle, and Compulsive Research are merely helpful in finding lands. Every other card is dedicated to winning the game.
If you have not had the twisted pleasure of playing against this deck, let me lay the groundwork. After reaching a critical amount of mana (usually around turns 5 or 6, but sometimes as early as turn 4), Fissure Post will start casting Cloud of Faeries and untapping Cloudposts. Once natural blue mana is exhausted, Prophetic Prism takes on the role of an Island. Snap is cast on Cloud of Faeries, generating more mana. Eventually, Fissure Post will cast Ghostly Flicker on Cloud of Faeries and another permanent, say Prophetic Prism, drawing a card, generating more mana, and giving the deck access to more blue in the pool.
Eventually, through multiple cycles, the deck will find a Mnemonic Wall to retrieve Ghostly Flicker. The Fissure Post pilot will then cycle the Ghostly Flicker through the Wall and the Cloud of Faeries repeatedly to generate enough mana and a high enough storm count to cast Temporal Fissure for all opposing permanents, occasionally returning a Cloud of Faeries and Mnemonic Wall to her/his own hand so the process can be repeated in a few turns. Sometimes Mulldrifter beatdown commences, and other times an Ulamog's Crusher appears. It is very effective.
At the time of writing, Temporal Fissure decks make up about 25% of the winners metagame. This includes a version that eschews Cloudpost in favor of a combination of lands like Azorius Chancery and cost reducers like Sunscape Familiar, but the endgame is the same, save Ulamog's Crusher. Until such a time that Wizards deems it fit to ban part of the combo, the deck is a reality of the format. It is the enemy.
How does one attack an enemy that fights a different sort of battle? The issue at hand is one of interactivity. Fissure Post is a deck that after a certain stage of the game prevents one person playing the game of Magic. The other two highly successful decks of the moment—Delver and Stompy—fight this in different manners. Delver has the countermagic available to stop key spells, and Stompy can just flat-out race with a Groundswell heavy draw. Yet they are not auto-wins against Fissure Post because they operate on a metric that Fissure Post can attack while FissurePost in boss mode is largely impervious. One of the best way to fight monsters, as Jax Teller tells us, is to create monsters.
Around the time that the Temporal Fissure matter was brought to the forefront of the Pauper community, the Magic World Championship were taking place. Like many, I was glued to coverage and watched the finals closely as Reid Duke battled for the title. His weapon of choice that day, as you may know, was G/W Auras.
Before this deck showed up in Modern, it had made its presence felt in Pauper. In the wake of Temporal Fissure rising, Auras began appearing again. This made perfect sense because the presence of creatures with hexproof helped to mitigate the damage a Temporal Fissure could do. The low cost of spells in the deck also helped after a Fissure resolved, and the deck races well. So I decided to hop on the bandwagon and put my faith in Team Reid.
This was a very rough first pass. I quickly learned that the deck had far too many lands and started trimming them away one at a time. In a deck like this, I always err on the side of too many lands rather than too few. This is because even though the converted mana cost is quite low, the presence of two colors with key cards like Ethereal Armor and Armadillo Cloak being in the second color means I want to have my lands. Over the weeks of tuning, I eventually dropped to nineteen lands.
I also started turning the knobs on other inclusions. While I did not want to dilute the hexproof plus Ethereal Armor package, I wanted to do what I could to prevent myself from losing to my own draws. Combined with dropping the land count, I decided to skew my threats earlier on the mana curve. At this time, I was thinking about Travel Preparations main as a way to fight Temporal Fissure since unlike Auras the counters cannot be bounced. During my card search, I came across Qasali Pridemage. I thought about how often I attacked with one creature wearing multiple Auras and felt that Pridemage fit neatly into my game plan. I put my search on hold and decided to test it out cutting some Aura Gnarlids to make space.
Qasali Pridemage overperformed. Exalted was huge, giving the deck an additional "Aura" that helped my creatures survive being blocked. The best thing about this aura, though, was that it could attack for three alone and wear other enchantments. The splash damage from the tacked on Naturalize was also important. This change provided maindeck outs to cards like Spire Golem and other Auras decks without giving up the main plan. In a pinch, it can wear Rancor with no fear since if it dies, well, Rancor just comes back. The fact it can be targeted is a small downside considering these benefits. While I started with two, I eventually settled on three of the Alara Reborn standout.
Around the same time as the search that led me to Qasali Pridemage, I was looking for other Auras that could draw me a card. While Frog Tongue sees play for its ability to replace itself, I wanted something a little more robust.
This card saw play in some earlier versions of the deck but fell off. As the pilots of the deck streamlined it more and more, turning it into a lean sixteen-to-eighteen-land deck, an additional three-mana Aura was too risky. Once I started running more lands (this was back when I ran twenty) and additional two-drops, Snake Umbra seemed to be worth a shot. The card earned its keep. Snake Umbra helps to ameliorate the fact that this deck can run out of gas in the midgame. Being able to connect with a Silhana Ledgewalker wearing Snake Umbra can go a long way towards ensuring victory. Once a creature from this deck sticks, there are precious few ways to remove it, so sticking some smart slacks on one becomes far less risky. Snake Umbra also has the added bonus of letting you attack in without fear because if they block for a trade, well, your guy survives.
After a few weeks of lab dwelling, this is what my current Auras list looks like:
Concerning the mana base, access to green is important early since all your creatures are green and without a beasty the deck will not go. Abundant Growth and Utopia Sprawl both want early Forests to be effective. Having a turn 1 green source is key, and an early Forest is vital to help with a burst turn aided by Utopia Sprawl. The number of Plains is low but is offset by the inclusion of two Selesnya Guildgates. While having access to white mana is important (it helps to cast what is likely the best Aura in Ethereal Armor), having it untapped on turn 1 is not nearly as important as having green early. Between the Plains, the Gates, and the eight enchant lands, access to white is rarely an issue. Any more and the deck would flood. No one wants to drown in the Plains; it's just embarrassing.
With such emphasis on lands that come into play untapped, the inclusion of three such cards that do the exact opposite is rather suspect. Selesnya Guildgate is a concession to the fact that this deck needs to squeeze in eight natural white sources and twelve natural green sources. Running one of the best Pauper dual lands gives the deck the wiggle room it needs in color while also not inflating the actual land count. Khalni Garden is a hedge against decks featuring Diabolic Edict and Geth's Verdict. While not common, it is incredibly difficult for Auras to beat decks of this nature. The lone Khalni Garden is a nod to the difficulty of the matchup. In a pinch, the token does a fine job carrying Auras; I might have beaten on opponent with a Plant wearing Ethereal Armor and Rancor.
In my opinion, all Auras decks have to include the following cards:
This is the core of the deck and cannot change. Abundant Growth and Utopia Sprawl are vital to keeping your mana smooth and have the added bonus of increasing the damage output of Ethereal Armor. The fact that Abundant Growth draws you a card is huge and cannot be understated—while the fixing aspect of the card is nice, it is the ability to cycle that is most valuable.
Utopia Sprawl should almost always be set to white. If you have a hand with multiple white sources and only one Forest, then setting it to green makes sense. Green is vital on turns 1 and 2, while white is better turns 3 and 4, so plan accordingly. The last thing you want to do is select the wrong color and screw up your path to victory.
Unless absolutely necessary, you want to spread out your enchant lands. This will help to minimize the damage any one potential land destruction spell can do to you. Having fewer than three lands is the threshold for loading up a land with more than one of these Auras.
The twelve creatures with hexproof are integral to making the deck work. Without this number, the chances of having one on an optimal turn drops significantly. While the other creatures available are nice, these are needed for the deck to go. Sacred Wolf is another option (what with having hexproof and all), but it costs three and is not as reliable as the Bogle, the Scout, and the Ledgewalker.
Ethereal Armor is your best card. It is like a Sliver in that every Aura out there makes it that much better. It is well within the realm of possibility to be attacking with a 3/3 or even a 4/4 on turn 2 when wearing the Armor. And it is not just the power boost that matters, but first strike is huge. Even though Pauper has its fair share of control and combo decks, they all tend to run creatures. Having one that is going to win all the fights, well, that counts for quite a bit.
Rancor is playing a very strong second fiddle to Ethereal Armor, but like annoying folk bands everywhere that fiddle is neccessary. The trample from Rancor allows all that nice power from Ethereal Armor to crush the face and not be absorbed by chump blockers. Rancor is the Aura that benefits the least from doubling up, as having two on the same creature creates a smaller benefit than two Ethereal Armors.
Ancestral Mask is very similar to Ethereal Armor except for two big distinctions. First, it counts all other enchantments on the battlefield (that is, it does not recognize itself). Second, it gives a +2/+2 bonus for each of these. The current list runs three because the bonus from resolving one is huge, but the risk in having it be your only enchantment is too great to run the full four. Similarly, Armadillo Cloak is fantastic in that it allows you to take hits during the first few turns of the game but start gaining life back once it hits play. Having four main can clog an opening hand, and I find three to be ideal for this metagame. I would never drop below two, however, as the swing the card provides is rather huge. Armadillo Cloaks also stack, so putting two on the same creature would result in two separate life gain triggers.
For a long time I was running a single Aura Gnarlid, but I eventually settled on two. This card is quite strong and can connect for a lot of damage unenhanced. However, it does cost three and is the most vulnerable card in the deck. This particular Beast is a solid backup plan that does not detract for our primary goal, so having two main seems fine. If a better option presents itself, Gnarlid is likely to first card on the cutting room floor.
Other players use a different mix of Auras to round out their decks. Here is a short list of other cards to consider. Hyena Umbra and Spider Umbra both see play from time to time. Hyena Umbra has the advantage of costing a single mana and coming with Totem Armor while also providing the all-important first strike. Spider Umbra grants reach, which helps Auras defend against the flying armies found in Delver of Secrets decks. Spider Umbra sees more play largely due to the fact that it costs green and is easier on mana requirements. Frog Tongue sees play for the same reason except that it also replaces itself as a cantrip. Nimbus Wings and Call to Serve also see play occasionally for the Holy Strength sized boost combined with flying again to better block faeries and Spire Golems. Finally, many decks run one or two copies of Lifelink as a way to boost life totals earlier than the turn 3 Armadillo Cloak.
On the utility side, Wild Growth has seen play in lists that run fewer lands. I have shied away from this as mostly the enchant lands are needed to generate white and WIld Growth does not do that. Journey to Nowhere also sees occasional play as an "on theme" removal spell, but this deck does not really care about opposing creatures so I have abandoned it.
This deck is a blast to play, and I feel that the changes I have made have helped it to rely less on an opening hand. Qasali Pridemage provides a reasonable topdeck that can impact the board immediately, while Snake Umbra provides a steady stream of cards. That being said, this deck still mulligans. A lot. If you hand does not include at least one creature with hexproof, a buff-style Aura, and the mana to cast both, I would ship it back unless I knew my opponent would not apply any pressure in the first two turns.
The more I mulligan in a given game, the more liberal I am with what I am willing to keep. With six cards, I am usually willing to need to draw a land or Aura to make the hand work but would still really like a creature. On five, I'll tend to keep anything with a mix of lands and spells. On four, I'll keep anything with a land. Thankfully, I have never had to mulligan to three. Also, do not be afraid to mulligan with this deck as you are incredibly redundant—I have won multiple practice games on mulligans to four.
The typical line of play is fairly obvious from the composition of the deck: play a threat and stick multiple Auras on it. Attack. Profit. The vast majority of the time, this is how you will win the game. As the games go longer, you plan changes. Once games get to the six- and seven-turn mark, it is usually correct to start diversifying your threats to prevent potential blowouts and bad attacks. I prefer to split Ethereal Armor more than any other Aura because it is a house unto itself and grants first strike, which is so important in combat situations.
The only time I would start playing Auras on multiple creatures early in the game is if I am up against one of the following: Mono-Black Rats, Dimir Control, or Izzet Post. The first two have access to Diabolic Edict and Geth's Verdict, while the latter two can run Curfew. All these cards can ruin your well-laid plans (which is one of the reasons why I run the miser's Khalni Garden).
The sideboard I am using has some very traditional elements but eschews one popular plan for the deck in games 2 and 3: supplemental land destruction. Often these decks will feature Lush Growth in the sideboard (occasionally in the main 60) as a way to fight Cloudpost. Thermokarst makes appearances in the sideboard for the same reason. The goal of this plan is to buy a turn for a final attack. I do not like this angle because it is a fallacy.
Even if Lush Growth does boost Ethereal Armor and Ancestral Mask, its job of "attacking Cloudpost" is awkward at best. Most Cloudpost decks, even those without a Temporal Fissure kill, run Ghostly Flicker, so come the midgame that Lush Growth is going away due to a blinked Loci. An optimal Thermokarst comes on turn two after investing turn 1 in a Utopia Sprawl. Any time one gains from attacking the mana base of their opponent with this deck is lost because turns spent attacking early lands are turns where threats are not played.
Instead I am running Travel Preparations. Non-Temporal Fissure Cloudpost decks are a fairly good matchup for Auras, but Temporal Fissure decks are an absolute race. While they cannot target your creatures, lands and auras are fair game. Travel Preparations takes the place of more expensive Auras in games 2 and 3 and provides a permanent boost. While you are not swinging tempo, you are providing additional damage that is immune to Temporal Fissure, and this plays into your desired course of action. Unless you are going whole hog transformational sideboard, a light land destruction package is a risky proposition in Pauper, especially since the mana cost of threats and Stone Rains are nearly identical. The time spent stealing a land drop is given back when one bypasses a threat.
While Auras is a fairly straightforward deck, there are some nuances to particular matchups.
The acme of Pauper. Playing against Delver is quite fun with this deck largely due to Qasali Pridemage. On the play, you're looking for a hand with a Gladecover Scout or Slippery Bogle and an Ethereal Armor, but any threat and pants combination will suffice. Once your hexproof creature sticks, you want to play around Spellstutter Sprite and Counterspell, but you are well equipped for this. Spent early turns generating extra land drops with Utopia Sprawl until you can overcome the counter wall with threats. On the draw, you play a similar game except you want to resolve a threat for sure, so sometimes it is best to wait until you have two or more if casting 1/1s into open mana.
Qasali Pridemage obsoletes the need for dedicated sideboard slots against Delver since it helps all your creatures win fights while also tussling on its own and taking out Spire Golems. On the draw, you definitely want an additional threat, but if you are on the play, no sideboarding at all is perfectly defensible. If their deck is running bounce in the vein of Boomerang or Echoing Truth, siding out more expensive Auras in favor of Travel Preparations makes sense, but most decks run around two of those cards between the maindeck and the sideboard.
The premier aggro deck of the format is on par with you for speed but can win from nowhere with chained Groundswells. Auras is likely to be behind for the first two or three turns in this pairing, but sticking an Armadillo Cloak on a large creature or a Silhana Ledgewalker goes quite a long way toward winning the game. If this is not an option, you want to lean pretty heavily on defensive Ethereal Armors and eating one attacker every turn. But yeah, Armadillo Cloak is a much better plan.
An early Standard Bearer can absolutely ruin a Stompy pilot's day. With this little 1/1 in play, it becomes impossible for the green mage to make their monsters impressive. Armadillo Cloak is your best friend in this matchup, especially in multiples.
Fissure Post and Temporal Fissure Decks
This is a tough game 1. Auras needs a hand that is all threats and the mana to cast them in the first two-to-three turns because by turn 4 there is a good chance you are going to be Temporal Fissured right out of the game. There is not much you can do except vomit out your hand and race. The good news is that there are times when you are just fast enough.
The goal in games 2 and 3 is similar: race their combo. However, you also want to grow two threats with your Travel Preparations—all their creatures are easily beaten in combat (aside from Ulamog's Crusher), so making a monster that is 4/4 or larger goes a long way. Relic of Progenitus is also key in stalling their combo—just be sure to pop it while Mnemonic Wall is on the stack to nab their Ghostly Flicker.
Against the control deck of the format, Auras has the advantage. It can lay a threat early enough to sneak under countermagic and then continue to make it larger. The cards you want to play around most are Curfew and Electrickery. If they are running a Mystical Teachings build, then you can count on one or the other main.
Against Izzet Post (and most control decks), you really just want another threat. The life gain from Armadillo Cloak matters less than having another attacker. If they are running an excessive amount of permanent bounce (a la Boomerang), feel free to bring in Travel Preparations in exchange for the other Cloaks.
When two non-interactive decks meet, whoever can execute their game plan first wins. An early Armadillo Cloak goes a long way towards winning this matchup. Thankfully, they cannot do much to interact with you (aside from the occasional Lightning Bolt to the face). That being said, they are a turn faster than you on offense, so do not be afraid to leave a Slippery Bogle with Ethereal Armor back to block their Kiln Fiends.
You absolutely want to stick an early Armadillo Cloak and start going to town on their life total. Moment's Peace is huge in these games, but do not cast it to prevent a loss unless you can flash it back safely as Eye Candy packs Dispel in games 2 and 3.
Similar to the Eye Candy matchup except that Auras has a sweet maindeck bullet in Qasali Pridemage. Again, the good guys need to lean heavily on Armadillo Cloak to pad the life total and some defensive first strike feats as Atog is a true threat. Additionally, the evil machine has reach in the form of Galvanic Blast, so do everything possible to keep your life total about eight.
Play games 2 and 3 similiarly to the Eye Candy matchup, but there is less need to worry about Dispel. This sideboard strategy also applies to the less popular Goblins and Slivers decks.
Ah, the mirror. The key here is to have the biggest monster first. This version is at a slight advantage due to the maindeck Qasali Pridemage, but going first is even more important.
In the mirror, Auras wants to have some way to steal tempo. Standard Bearer helps by forcing your opponent to hit it with their Auras (of course, they will likely be on the same plan). It may be worth it to side in some number of Travel Perparations as a pseudo-Aura that does not help your opponent's Ancestral Masks. Finally, if Auras becomes more popular, it would make sense to find space for some number of Journey to Nowhere in the sideboard.
This is not a top deck, but it gives Auras fits. Any black deck with access to disruption and removal is Auras' worst enemy. Unlike every other pairing, here Auras actively wants to play out multiple threats and keep them sizable. Diabolic Edict and Geth's Verdict are killer, and Crypt Rats is a serious bad time.
In post-board games, you want to bring in extra creatures and improve your resiliency to removal. There is not much Auras can do except try to draw cards in the correct sequence and beat down. Thankfully, Rats is a miniscule portion of the winners metagame at the moment and can be dodged.
Looking forward, the prospects for this deck seem rather good. With Theroshaving an enchantment theme, Auras is likely to get at least one new toy (if not multiple). The only reason I would be wary in the future is that there is a chance that some cards could be banned in the to help weaken the dominance of Cloudpost and Temporal Fissure decks. If this does in fact occur, it could give rise to more Rats-style decks, which in turn is bad news for Auras.
In the meantime, if you're going to go out in a storm, it's a good idea to pack your armor, cloak, and mask. Because face it, if you're on Team Reid, you're gonna have awesome hair.
Keep slingin' commons-
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
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