Everyone knows that not all Magic decks are created equal. Some decks are just obviously better than others by fair margins, and so those worse decks don’t really see any tournament play. That isn’t the issue here. If you wanted to read about decks that are obviously bad, you could just go read the MTGSalvation forums.
No, this article isn’t talking about obviously terrible decks, but decks that just aren’t as good as they look. These are the decks that could trick even good players into wanting to play them. These are the decks that sit at the bottom of or just outside tier 2 viability. These are the decks that might even show up with a 3-1 record in a Daily Event every few days, giving their pilots just enough faith in the deck to keep on gaming with it and keep just missing the money finishes. These are the decks that, for various reasons, will continue to be played in Pauper despite having mediocre results. These are:
Poor Pauper Performers
Starting off the list is a strategy familiar to anyone who has played Magic for a while, and it is constantly a fan favorite across tons of formats, Reanimator.
Pauper Reanimator suggested by Pitlord
Why people play it — Like I said above, Reanimator is a fan favorite across the formats. People love putting gigantic monsters into play on Turn 2 everywhere, and Pauper is no exception. Granted, we “only” have Ulamogs Crusher to cheat into play, but he’s still quite the beating, especially early enough that the first swing can completely cripple an opponent’s mana.
Why it could be good — Obviously a Turn 2 Crusher is insane against decks that can’t immediately kill it, and even against decks that could, Reanimator plays plenty of disruption to either protect its fatties or slow down the faster combo decks like TPPS. The entire Reanimator engine is present in Pauper, from the excellent graveyard fillers like Careful Study and Hapless Researcher, to the cheap disruption like Spell Pierce and Duress, and of course the spell to actually bring your win condition back from the bin and tutors to find it. In a pinch, Reanimator can even act as the de facto control deck in many matchups, simply countering opposing spells and even potentially hardcasting an Ulamogs Crusher.
In reality — Reanimator does really get some insane blowout wins with a fast fatty, or it occasionally controls the game very well, but just as often it flounders trying to find both its four-of reanimate spell and its four-of fatty. It’s basically a two-and-a-half card combo to get a Crusher into the yard and then get him into play. This is a lot of work to bring back a creature that can immediately be Doom Bladed, Diabolic Edicted, or even simply raced by a swarm of creatures or a flurry of burn spells. In addition, having only four Exhumes as actual reanimate spells can present a problem against decks with lots of countermagic or discard spells.
What can be done — With the cards currently available, frankly, Reanimator is about as optimal as it can be. The deck is very streamlined already and the win condition/disruption/draw suite is as good as it’s going to get. What the deck really needs is another decent piece of fat to cheat into play, and another animate spell to be printed at common. The first is always a possibility, though it’s pretty unlikely that we will see anything on the level of a common Eldrazi again in the near future. The main thing I would like to see is a sizeable man with shroud or hexproof to avoid the Doom Blade dilemma. Of course, a large man with both hexproof and evasion would be ideal. Even something like a 6/6 with hexproof and trample would be sufficient to get the number of targets up to the traditional five-to-eight range.
The other issue Pauper Reanimator faces is with its animate spells, or lack thereof. Exhume is literally the only option available, and is much less impressive in practice when it has to be tutored for than it is in theory. Another animate spell, even potentially with a drawback at three mana or simply a Zombify at common would be a huge boon to the deck. With Innistrad shaping up to be a horror-themed set, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for such a thing either. Having access to a full extra set of animates would be crucial to finishing streamlining of the deck and could lead to it actually becoming quite a successful archetype.
The second deck that I contend is a serial under-performer is Greenpost. This mono-green Cloudpost variant has put up a handful of decent finishes in Daily Events, but it does so with little consistency, and, if the two-man events and tournament practice games are used to gauge a deck’s relative popularity, it certainly isn’t for a lack of people trying. Here’s a sample list that did well recently.
GreenPost played by umeboshijiisan on Aug. 19th
Why people play it — Greenpost is basically the embodiment of a Timmy deck for Pauper. You get to ramp into fat creatures while blowing up opposing lands, and that’s fun and exciting for a lot of people. Mana acceleration plus large dudes is another time-tested strategy that many players love.
Why it could be good — There’s a reason that ramping into fatties is a classic Magic strategy: it actually kind of works. Sometimes you draw the perfect ramp spells and can plop down a hardcast Ulamogs Crusher or start an Aurochs Herd chain on Turn 4. When this happens, unless the opponent has an answer immediately, it becomes fairly hard for the Greenpost player to lose.
The deck can theoretically present a solid game plan against both aggressive and controlling decks as well. Aggressive decks can have issues breaking through an early Overgrown Battlement or two. Aggressive decks will also have even more problems if Greenpost actually gets really rolling, since Glimmerposting for four or more life can be backbreaking, and even otherwise, large creatures like Myr Enforcer can’t tangle with an Ulamogs Crusher.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greenpost also has a decent game plan against control decks. The Cloudpost engine lets the pilot advance to the late game very quickly and drop bomb after bomb in an effort to overwhelm the control player’s resources. That goal can also be achieved by kneecapping slower decks with a bevy of land destruction spells such as Reap and Sow and Thermokarst.
In Reality — Greenpost suffers from the same problems that plaque ramp decks everywhere. Ask any Standard Valakut player what it’s like to draw a hand full of awesome ramp spells, hit 6 mana on Turn 4 and then draw. . . more ramp spells. The primary issue with Greenpost is exactly the same; you’re taking a risk every time you keep a hand with lots of ramp and no threats or lots of threats with little ramp. When the deck works perfectly, it can be brutally efficient. The issue with ramp decks is that pilots and builders often suffer from best-case scenario syndrome and assume every hand can have exactly three lands, two ramp spells, and two threats. If that were the case, Greenpost would probably be quite successful. Unfortunately, mulligan issues and poor draws can cause Greenpost to spend a while floundering, doing little to nothing in the midgame if it can’t draw a threat. Conversely, hands can be drawn with little to no early ramp. A Turn 4 Ulamogs Crusher is scary as hell for an opponent. A Turn 7 Ulamogs Crusher, much less so.
The other issue is something more specific to Pauper, which similarly brings down the power of Reanimator in the format, the lack of exceptional fat creatures. In Standard Valakut, there are Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar to ramp into, both of which have immediate effects on the game, even if they get Doom Bladed. In Modern, Green-based 12Post is an early frontrunner, using a strategy similar to Pauper Greenpost. All other things being equal, though (and they obviously aren’t), the Modern build has Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as a finisher that is almost unkillable and generates a free Time Walk. Pauper Greenpost, on the other hand, has Ulamogs Crusher as its Eldrazi, who can be fairly easily removed and potentially even raced. The same goes for the ability of many decks to simply race an Aurochs Herd that came down just one turn too late.
What can be done — Clearly something as powerful as Emrakul would be far above the curve in Pauper, but much like Reanimator, Greenpost would benefit greatly from an additional decent large threat. Evasion would be a plus, but a large creature with Hexproof would be a great boon to the strategy and is actually not all that unlikely to see print in green someday. As for other improvements to the deck, I’m not sure there really are many that can be made. The ramp spells at common are fine, and the metagame isn’t particularly hostile to ramp decks right now. In my opinion, a deck like Greenpost is always going to be limited simply by its nature (i.e., being a ramp deck), regardless of what is printed. Obviously this would no longer be the case if there is ever a card like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle printed at common, but I don’t plan on holding my breath for that to ever happen.
The final “deck” I will discuss isn’t actually a specific deck, but a class of decks that have been relatively weak recently: blue-based control and aggro-control decks. The most common lists I will lump into this category are Mono-Blue Control (MUC), Blue-Black Control, and Blue-Splash Faeries, including the blue-red lists that were popular shortly before the banning of Frantic Search. The only one that has put up even occasional results is MUC.
Mono-Blue Faeries played by jitters on Aug. 28th
Why people play them — Nostalgia once again could certainly be a factor here. Blue control is one of the most classic of archetypes, and a very popular one at that. It’s enjoyable for many people to just say “No” to an opponent and draw a bunch of cards. Also, the strategy has been successful throughout the history of the game, all the way up to having blue control and aggro-control decks dominate the current Standard.
Why they could be good — Blue-based control has been a successful archetype before for a reason. Counterspell is just an absurd card, and pairing with a splash color lets you gain access to premium spot removal for when things manage to slip through the cracks of your counter wall. Spellstutter Sprite has also given the archetype a tremendous boost, acting as both a solid counter and providing a body to slowly win the game with. Errant Ephemeron is no longer the necessity it once was as a means to win the game with a blue deck. Mono-blue decks can now use an assortment of flash fliers like Spellstutter Sprite and Spire Monitor to support the traditional Spire Golem. The adoption of Spellstutter Sprite has also increased the viability of Ninja of the Deep Hours, especially in lists that splash for removal to ensure Ninja can provide a steady stream of card draw.
Having tools to one-for-one almost anything an opponent does while ensuring a steady stream of extra cards is obviously powerful. The blue decks in Pauper have also adapted to the newer theory of largely eschewing a big finisher in the control decks, which has helped to streamline them a fair amount. Pecking away at an opponent with small flying creatures has become the modern control theme ever since Faeries was a deck in Standard. Recent printings have allowed control decks to avoid excessively clunky draws by consolidating effects like card advantage and counterspells into win conditions like Mulldrifter and Spellstutter Sprite.
In reality — Blue control still has some of the same clunky draws it always has in other formats, and the wall of countermagic still isn’t impenetrable. Sometimes the deck will draw a hand of Spellstutters and the opponent will have nothing but 3-drops. Conversely, you might end up with a hand full of expensive finishers and draw spells that won’t help you beat a swarm of goblins or a Grapeshot. Any number of color splashes also weaken the manabase of a deck like this, which is actually fairly mana-hungry, especially in the midgame. Having your fourth land come into play tapped can ruin entire lines of play and set you back significantly when you can only counter one of an opponent’s two plays that turn.
You may have noticed that the problems with the decks listed above aren’t actually all that crippling. Decent mulligan and in-game decisions can significantly mitigate these factors, just as with any other decent deck. That’s because these problems with blue-based control aren’t the primary issues facing the deck right now. For the real reason these decks seem to be underperforming recently lies somewhere else, which I will discuss now.
What can be done — Unlike the other decks discussed so far, the issue with blue-based control isn’t with such decks themselves, but with the other decks being played right now. Blue control decks are generally a little soft to very fast, aggressive decks, even when splashing for a fair amount of decent removal. Decks like Goblins and Affinity can easily overwhelm the control player before he is able to make more than one play per turn. Without any sort of reliable sweeper, control decks in Pauper can have significant trouble digging out of an early hole against aggressive decks. Until the metagame shifts, blue-based control decks will likely remain on the backburner. Without a Wrath of God effect to combat strategies like Stompy, Affinity, and White Weenie, control decks can’t reliably staunch the bleeding and position themselves to win the game against aggro. Again, though, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any insane sweepers to be printed at common any time soon, so I would look more for a metagame shift to boost control decks. If a new combo deck comes to the forefront of the format to staunch the flow of aggro, blue-based control can make a comeback, but without a combo deck around to prey on, blue-based control will remain an underperforming strategy.
There you have it, three decks not to play right now in Pauper. The metagame is still focused around aggressive strategies, with blue-red Cloudpost decks being the control option of choice. Until this metagame shifts a bit more toward combo decks, which indeed have started popping up again, or new printings change the format a bit, stay away from these decks if you plan on winning events with any consistency.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you enjoy my ramblings you can follow me on Twitter as @Grant_champion, or you can talk to me on MTGO as Pitlord.