Puresteel Paladin with Ben Isgur
Ben Isgur has been making an effort to break into Magic this year, and 2012 might just be his season. He’s started the Atlanta Standard Open off 5-0 with a Puresteel Paladin list that’s not like the ones others are playing. I should know—we spent the last week building it together!
A quick glance at the decklist might send off Tempered Steel impressions. Glint Hawk? Vault Skirge? The full amount of Etched Champions? In truth, the deck takes a significant amount of its evolution from Tempered Steel, but rather than relying on Memnite and the namesake enchantment, it uses an equipment shell and Puresteel Paladin to improve its edge against Gut Shot, Vapor Snag, and Moorland Haunt.
The primary reason Ben decided to run the list? Its Illusions matchup. “It is very good against Illusions,” he noted. “Mortarpod is sweet and Vault Skirge, if he lives past Gut Shot time, is unraceable.” While that might sound like a tall order, it is easier than it sounds to find a moment when the opponent taps low and you can slide Flayer Husk onto the 1/1, creating a threat that makes Delver of Secrets blush to look at.
Glint Hawk is the other big Tempered Steel transfer, and the 2/2 holds its own well. Its presence often offers you to determine how effective a flipped Delver will be, as Glint Hawk can race or block depending on the situation. “What I like about Glint Hawk is that his effect isn’t always a drawback—it’s frequently a benefit,” Ben added. “You can draw a card off Puresteel Paladin, get a Germ with Mortarpod, or even just untap your creature, which isn’t all that bad.” In fact, in a tempo-driven format like this one, it can be huge, and rebuying living weapon somewhat duplicates the function of Trinket Mage in other lists.
Benjamin Isgur's Piston Sledges are finding their marks thanks to his evasive creature base.
The addition of Etched Champion to Tempered Steel was a major innovation for Worlds. While the Champ is a semi-include in many lists, this one packs four and would never want to cut one. “Etched Champion is sweet—he’s both a great blocker and great offender,” Ben said. “There’s a lot of good stuff for him to block, such as Geist of Saint Traft. I’ve had two separate opponents as of Round 3 use Geist as Char.” The unblockable nature of Champion also complements Invisible Stalker. The Stalker is another creature that sees inconsistent play in the archetype alongside Silver-Inlaid Dagger—but coupled with this deck’s aggressive potential, the Stalker and his Daggers are an easy addition.
The deck originally ran Sword of War and Peace as well, but that piece of equipment was too slow without Puresteel Paladin and often a little clunky even with him. It’s been replaced by Piston Sledge! “Piston Sledge shines against removal-light decks, like Humans, Township, or Tempered Steel.” The equipment has a number of powerful benefits that aren’t obvious, but that point of toughness matters. It lets Vault Skirge survive Moorland Haunt combat, it lets Etched Champion fight through Solemn Simulacrum, and coupled with Husk or Mortarpod it will let Invisible Stalker survive an Elesh Norn—keeping a stern clock in place! Its effect can get rid of redundant Mox Opals and Mortarpods, letting you pressure the opponent while using your resources to cast spells or make Spirits.
The sideboard is spicy, and matchup-specific. The Idols were all Ben—it took a bit of convincing for me to try them, but they’re much better than Shrine of Loyal Legions in this deck. “Glint Hawk idols in the sideboard do a straight swap with Mortarpod in the matchups where Mortarpods are bad,” Ben said. “They make Puresteel Paladin worse, but they are super-frustrating for control decks.” Esper Control is tough—you definitely need the help! The Indomitable Archangels and Mirran Crusaders were my picks to try and fight Ancient Grudge out of Wolf Run, but their efficacy has yet to be fully determined. Considering Wolf Run is on the decline, it might be worth trimming those down.
The list doesn’t have Tempered Steel’s explosive potential, but it has the same trademark aggression with a measured gameplan. “You have a very strong nut draw involving Puresteel Paladin and a lot of equipment when you draw Puresteel and he doesn’t die, and it’s close to unbeatable.” When you lack those draws, the Paladin functions as a red herring for counterspells and removal, diverting opposing attention and letting you focus on the real goal: attacking them for twenty damage!