Peering into Pauper – Scenes from Suicide Black

Hello everyone, my name is Grant Champion, and I recently signed up for Magic Online for a number of reasons- some being drafting at 2 a.m. is nice and the perpetual trading to build a collection basically from scratch is a thrill. The main reason I signed up though was to play Pauper.

I’ve played paper Magic for years, in two different states at several stores. Every place I went, one of the first things I did when going to a new store was to find or create a new Peasant community. For those of you who don’t know what the Peasant format is, it’s very similar to Pauper Magic. The only difference is that instead of only commons, you are allowed to juice up your deck with up to 5 uncommons, resulting in a metagame distinct from, and yet somewhat similar to Pauper. It’s a fun format, and there are occasionally community ran events for the format, so if you enjoy pauper I suggest you check it out. That said though, you’re here to read about Pauper, and I’ve digressed.

A Brief Look at the Pauper Meta

Everyone knows that for every format in Magic, the first thing you should do, definitely before you build your own deck, is to examine the metagame. Looking over recent Pauper results showed a pretty well-defined metagame. The top dogs seem to be aggro decks of a few varieties, including Goblins, Affinity and Burn, with Stompy and Naya lists floating around too. They are all swarm-style aggro decks with minimal disruption, simply aiming to kill you as quickly as possible.

Goblins by HungryHungryHomer, 7th Place in Pauper Challenge on 2010-11-13

Equally popular are the control decks in the format, and they exist in a few forms. The most common is an aggro-control Faeries list that controls the game with countermagic and sometimes burn, while beating down with Ninja of the Deep Hours and Spire Golem. There are also a few other control decks, mostly U/R/x or U/B with Mystical Teachings.

Mono Blue by Anotsu_Kagehisa, 2nd Place in Pauper Challenge on 2010-11-19

Finally, there are a few combo decks around in Pauper. These decks set out to abuse cantrips like Brainstorm and Ponder to draw cards like Dark Ritual and Seething Song before finishing the game with a storm spell like Empty the Warrens or Grapeshot. Some lists also use Wee Dragonauts as a backup kill condition.

After examining the metagame, two things stuck out at me right away. First of all, the field seemed to be fairly balanced and open. Secondly, while Suicide Black is a legitimate contender in the Peasant format, but it appeared to be entirely absent in Pauper, not showing up anywhere on the radar!

Missing, but Not for Long

Why was Sui not even a thought in this format, theoretically so similar to Peasant, where it is a very viable deck? I immediately decided it was up to me to make a viable list and bring the awesomeness of Sui-Black from the peasants to the paupers. After testing a few variations that proved to be unexciting, I finally settled on a list that I felt was decent:

Pauper Suicide Black Click the arrow to download the above deck in .txt format

(To load a .txt deck into Magic: Online’s Deck Editor, click “Load”, select “Local Text Deck”, find the location of the downloaded deck file and double-click the deck.)

The list packs all the elements of a traditional Sui-Black list- it will surely feel familiar to anyone who’s played aggro-control decks in any format. Fast beaters couple with disruption and a smattering of removal to force through damage and take care of problematic creatures. In this case, the disruption is all in the form of discard, frequently attached to a body. A quick card-by-card breakdown:

Vampire Lacerator is your best one drop, providing two power on Turn 1. The drawback usually only costs a few life points when racing, and he can be traded away against aggro where the loss of life is a real liability. Dauthi Slayer and Dauthi Horror do most of your racing since they are essentially unblockable. Seven total unblockable guys feels like enough, since not being able to block is sometimes a very real issue. Rounding out the squad of aggressive dudes is Order of the Ebon Hand and Takenuma Bleeder. Both attack and block very well thanks to first strike or three toughness, respectively.

Next up is the disruption suite of discard- Ravenous Rats and Lilianas Specter. Both provide both a body and a way to at least slow the opponents down if they can’t push through damage. Duress is only a three-of, because it isn’t the ideal one drop and can actually whiff against some of the decks in the format- with its metagame-inspired lowering of power, Duress loses some effectiveness.

Three Doom Blades, two Sign in Bloods, and three Bonesplitters round out the deck. Removal is important, but in an open metagame, overloading on it can be, well… suicide. The Sign in Bloods are limited to only two copies, because the life loss is really substantial (and you rarely want to cast more than one per game). Bonesplitter is the last business spell and gets the nod over other men for now. Anything with shadow plus a Bonesplitter is an excellent way to race, and an equipped Order of the Ebon Hand beats almost anything in the red zone.

The final note on the main deck is the land count. Nineteen feels like enough after testing, but I really want somewhere between 19 and 20 most times since I occasionally have to mulligan more than I think I should. This considered, flooding still happens once in a while. Plus, we can cheat the land count a little bit because of Dark Ritual, which is busted. Seriously, that card is absolutely bonkers, and one of the biggest reasons I would suggest playing this deck! The tempo it provides is just insane, and most ritual-fueled openers are winners.

Dark Ritual

This card is really good

The sideboard listed is designed for a general, unknown metagame. It has slots to shore up matches against the general aggro-combo-control trifecta without overloading on hate for any particular matchup. Generally, vampires and removal come in for aggro, and discard for control and combo. Once I understand the full metagame a little better, I could probably present a more specialized sideboard. So far though, I’ve used every card in the board at some point against someone. So it isn’t the absolute worst, but it could still use some tuning.


After settling on what I figured to be a decent list, I decided it was time to run the gauntlet and see if the lack of Sui-Black in Pauper was a mere coincidence or if the deck really just couldn’t keep up with the other decks in the format. The results were mixed, but not altogether terrible. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the matchups I played most:

The Aggro

Metalcraft/Affinity — Slightly favorable

This actually surprised me a bit, since I was expecting the Affinity deck to just be faster than me while not really caring about my discard. The colorful metalcraft builds were initially somewhat surprising to see, but they do seem powerful. However, having access to all those powerful colored spells is actually how Sui beats them. The Affinity deck now has to spend the first few turns setting up and fixing colors, while Sui smashes in with cheap monsters and make them discard the last few important cards in their hand. After board not much changes. Board out Duress and some of the slower cards like Lilianas Specter in favor of more removal and some Child of Nights to make racing even easier.

Goblins — Unfavorable

The speed of the Pauper Goblins deck in surprised me just as much as the slowness of Affinity in the format. The truth is that Sui-Black just can’t make men fast enough to race the Gobos, and their random tokens all trade well with our 1-toughness guys. Boarding out discard effects and Sign in Bloods for more removal and Child of Nights makes the race less lopsided, but it’s still generally an uphill battle.

Naya — Even to slightly favorable

The last aggro deck I played against a fair amount was more like playing against Affinity than Goblins, thankfully. Naya takes a few turns to set up mana and creatures, which is exactly what Suicide needs to get just far enough ahead to win. The general strategy here is to play the early game as fast as possible and then finish up with evasive men and discard while chump blocking their huge guys. Sideboarding is very much the same as against the other aggro decks in the format.

The Control

U/B Control — Depends on build, even to slightly unfavorable

This matchup is a strange one, mostly because control decks can vary a lot more from build to build than aggressive strategies. Against most of the U/B decks you’re probably a little behind with Suicide, but it’s not by much. Doom Blades are dead for them, which is a plus. The best strategy here, and against all control decks, is to push through as much early damage early as possible and hope shadow men can make it through their finishers for the last few points. One thing to keep in mind when racing though is that anyone with Islands and Swamps almost certainly has Crypt Rats somewhere in their 75, which is absolutely critical to play around. Sideboarding strategies depend on builds, with removal coming out for discard against builds with few creatures. I have brought in removal against U/B controlling strategies though too depending on what I saw the first game(s). Bonesplitter is often the first card to go in this match- keeping attackers on the board can prove difficult.

U/R/(w) Control — Even to slightly favorable

Here, I have kind of lumped all sorts of decks together since your match and strategy is largely the same against them all. This category includes various sorts of Momentary Blink and Spellstutter Sprite builds that represent Pauper’s controlling, tempo-based strategies. The plan is similar to that when facing a pure control deck; it’s all about the right mix of racing and disrupting. Establishing a clock should always be first priority, with Rats and Specters playing cleanup while they’re backpedaling. You can usually race these sorts of decks since they spend a lot of time setting up and drawing cards. By the time they’re actually playing Magic, you’re usually too far ahead for them to come back! Most of the losses for Suicide against these types of decks are at the hands of Staggershock and Serrated Arrows, both of which are very good against Sui. Sideboarding varies depending on the opposing creature count. I would never take out Duress, and I would usually take out Bonesplitter. Discard and removal are both important here, with removal obviously getting priority against more aggressive builds and vice versa.

The Combo

Surprisingly, I actually played against very few combo decks, with most of the actually being more controlling Wee Dragonauts builds. Against them, the matchup is very similar to what is outlined above, treating them as a U/R control deck where discard is more important than removal. I’m not sure if the lack of combo I’ve faced so far is merely a fluke or if some other factor is pushing the metagame away from Empty the Warrens. More testing is needed in the combo area, but the match seems, at least in theory, very draw dependent and close to even. Focus on tearing apart their hand ASAP, and board out anything that isn’t a creature or discard spell for more discard spells.

Lessons Learned

Overall, the results from my first Pauper outing online with Suicide Black yielded results that weren’t terrible, but weren’t quite what I was hoping for either. The deck seemed to be reasonable against mid-range and tempo-based decks but was lacking something against the hyper-aggressive and hyper-controlling decks around. Suicide is a fast deck to be sure, but it’s not quite fast enough to out-race the Goblins or kill a control player before they stabilize.

Constructing and playing the deck did afford me a good learning opportunity that I’d like to share as well. When first examining the unknown format (Pauper), I immediately tried to compare it with a similar format I was familiar with (Peasant). Specifically, the rules for deck construction are similar, and some of the powerful cards in Pauper are also some of the best in Peasant. However, in designing a Suicide deck for Pauper based on my knowledge of Peasant, I missed something important- I only focused on how similar the formats are, without properly acknowledging the differences.

In this case, I saw the loss of my five uncommons as the only real difference in the formats, but boy was I wrong. Losing the ability to play nine total cards out of 75 completely changed the deck’s dynamic. Hymn to Tourach is an uncommon online (and it’s common in paper… and in Peasant). This is probably the correct rarity for it, but it is still a huge loss for the deck. Ravenous Rats does its best, but the small body just doesn’t compensate for the card advantage and blowout potential of good ol’ Hymn to Tourach. The same theory applies to Doom Blade versus Gatekeeper of Malakir. One is removal; one is removal with a clock (and a form of card advantage). Losing the two major sources of card advantage from the deck, along with slightly reducing the aggressive potential of the deck, makes the Peasant and Pauper builds of Suicide completely different animals, despite the similar format restrictions.

This doesn’t just apply to Peasant and Pauper though! Especially now that the Extended card pool has been cut dramatically, people are looking at past Standard decks as a framework for the new Extended. This is a fine starting point for deck building, but be sure to account not only for what your deck gains from the deeper card pool, but also how those additions will interact with the rest of the field.

Finally, if you have a starting list, be it a port from another format, or just a simple list from someone’s article, be sure you understand every card in the deck before you start changing them. Knowing the role of every card in a deck, and how they fit together on both obvious and more subtle levels is crucial for proper deck modification. Ravenous Rats and Doom Blade couldn’t successfully replace Hymn to Tourach and Gatekeeper of Malakir because they didn’t offer the same roles. Sure, both packages provide disruption and removal with a body attached somewhere, but that does not mean they’re interchangeable or that they provide the same degree of efficiency.

In Summation

With that little bit of game theory and random musing out of the way, I’ll leave you with some final thoughts on Suicide Black for Pauper. If anyone wants to try out the deck, here are a few tips worth taking into consideration:

1) Having a clock should be objective number one. The first few games I played I was running out my Rats before my Dauthis, which was a mistake. Playing beaters earlier ensures that both you get in a few extra points of damage, and that your discard spells and creatures hit relevant mid-game threats.

2) Removal is precious. You aren’t a full-blown aggro deck, so throwing that Doom Blade at that Frogmite for the extra three points of damage probably isn’t worth it. You have seven unblockable creatures to swing past them later. Save removal for major threats.

3) Takenuma Bleeder is probably the slot in the deck I’m least sure of. Dross Golem is probably the most viable replacement, but each has their strengths. For now, I’m going to stick with Bleeder since he doesn’t straight up die to Staggershock.


This card is also really good (against us)

4) Just in case you missed it earlier, Dark Ritual is insane. Be happy whenever you see it in the first three turns, and remember that at worst, in the late game, it can pump that Order of the Ebon Hand.

Lastly, I’ll be starting a thread in the forums for discussion on the deck as well if anyone is interested in helping make Suicide a viable Pauper archetype.

That’s it, my first article for I’m super excited to hear what everyone thinks about my writing and my thoughts on Pauper. Sound off in the comments with thoughts, questions, and concerns!

  1. Great article,

    I’ve always had a soft spot for suicide black myself, it’s too bad that in my exclusive preoccupation that it’s banned heh (in Heirloom).

    I haven’t had a chance to look around the site that much yet, is there a guide on how to link cards and make the shnazzy decklists like you have here somewhere?


  2. Welcome and thanks for the article.
    I tried to play Sui Black but it has such a hard time against the meta that Id rather not play it. Instead I played a R/B Haste deck. It usually loses to U or U/R control unless they keep an iffy hand. Against Gobos its ok. Most of the time its a loss since they have so many outs to x/1 creatures. Against Affinity and Combo its does fine. I have a hard time playing decks that dont contain Lightning Bolts in Pauper since its such a powerful card.

    Discard is a little overrated since so many cards have flashback.
    Off note, Im hoping Cloud of Faeries receives the ban it deserves. Such a good card in so many ways.

  3. @Pitlord Great article. Glad to see some Pauper content again. It is a popular format and many players are interested to learn more about the metagame and deck ideas.

    @Xaoslegend Our contributors only have to deliver the decklist in .txt format and we convert them into the decklists you can see in the articles. The tool is part of our web platform.

  4. I also tried to make this work when Carnophage came online, but failed to bring anything better than the metagame at the time. A useful card was Spinning Darkness as removal. I like the inclusion of Liliana’s Specter. From MED IV, I’ve been oogling Hasran Ogress but I don’t know if it’s any help.


  5. Thanks for all the comments already guys!
    @moerutora: I also actually started work on a more aggressive B/R build after some initially mediocre results with mono-black but I haven’t worked too much on refining the list. Perhaps another deck worth working on and writing about?
    @Reinaldo: I initially used Carnophage as well but found him to be less than thrilling. Spinning Darkness though I totally whiffed on, didn’t even cross my mind. It probably warrants testing at the least, though I am concerned about it not taking down Spire Golem or a Ninja of the Deep Hours that shows up too early. Lastly, Hasran Ogress doesn’t seem that exciting, since the 2 slot is already clogged with better guys and I’m still concerned about Staggershock.

  6. A Pauper Metagame Breakdown without Frantic Storm aka Familiar Storm seems just incomplete, imho its differnt enough from “normal” Storm to get its own entry.

  7. It’s very cool that you took an archetype that wasn’t showing up and showed us your progress in a detailed experiment. I think the experiment is a success even if Suicide Black is merely a Tier 2 deck. After all, it’s pretty hard to bust into an established meta with a new deck that all of a sudden dominates everything. Anyway, nice approach to this article. Hopefully you’ll be able to come back with more content like this.

  8. @StewardUlk: I agree it’s a very differnet deck that I’ve seen in some top 8 results, but I honestly haven’t played a single game against it in the 21 two-mans I’ve played or the countless other practice games. This is probably a fluke since the deck does seem strong though. Maybe I’ll cover it sometime soon!
    @Zimbardo: Thanks for the kind words. I hope I can keep coming up with content too.

    On a final note, I did create a thread for the deck itself in the forums, so any card discussion or alternate builds can be held there and easily tracked.

  9. Was the meta-game really the first thing you considered? It seems you were already pushing for the idea of sui, and wanting to play sui restricted the full utilization of this perspective. By not focusing on a deck type, color(s), etc., it allows you to find the best answers to the mega-game threats as well as providing threats that the meta-game does not have an answer to among the card pool of everything in the pauper format, instead of just those cards that happen to be black or artifact. After this analysis, then start the deck construction process, connecting the colors, the tempo. Only at this point does compromising start, swapping for a similar though not as effective response, that fits the colors, the mana-curve, in order to make enough cards for a deck.
    But you bring up a good point when you talk of interaction. This process isn’t so simple as to look for just individual cards, but those groups of cards that together form the best response against the meta. The caution here is to note the luck factor, however: it is a card game, after all, and you won’t always draw into the combos that best disrupt the meta. Even if your playing blue with a huge card-drawing engine, the critical group of cards aren’t guaranteed. Thus, another compromise: the cards should be good individually (silver bullets) as well as in combo against the meta-game, even if the full strength of the group of cards is lost. A jack-of-all-trades deck, as it were.
    Specialized decks (storm, and to a lesser extent goblins and sui) seem to take the group concept to its extreme, hoping to draw that explosive hand that will devastate the opponent before they have a chance to react. However, what if you draw a bad hand, get mana flooded? Or if the opponent plays a silver bullet at just the right time that foils everything, even with the best hand you can draw? There’s a plan A, but not much plan B (besides trying to rebuild plan A though drawing cards or burning the rest of the opponent when the creatures have been neutralized)
    Of course, the other, individual, decks (mostly control) have the silver bullets, but are completely reactionary, having no real group synergy to proactively attack the opponent. Thus the critical build-up time needed for such decks.
    But of course if the meta is filled with the latter decks, then the former decks would be the best answer even though they aren’t the most… aesthetically pleasing type of decks. If it wins, if it works, it doesn’t matter.
    As a baseline, though, if you’re still trying to find out about the meta, then a good place to start would be in the aggro-control, or mid-range type decks that tend toward the above balance of individual vs. group cohesiveness. As more input is gained, shift deck type, colors, etc, etc, accordingly.
    That’s how I always built decks, anyway. Kinda like how I wrote book reports. Gather all the info, quotes that seemed would be relevant to the professor (the meta), then organize the report into a thematic, binding whole after, starting with transitions between quotes, then between paragraphs, and finally ending with an introduction and conclusion. External factors like length (opponent’s decks) thus never mattered – if the paper needed to be short, gather only a few quotes. If it needed to be longer, gather more. Additionally, you didn’t have to worry about writer’s block because you were not trying to fit the data to a preconceived notion, goal, or thesis (deck type/color) that you had in mind.
    Deck building, or a way of life…

  10. This isnt suicide black. This is mono black aggro.

    The suicide part of suicide black comes from the use of many cards that will actually kill you. Especially if your opponent manages to stop you in the first few turns.

    Please magic players get it straight!

  11. Really cool to see a pauper article ! I play mostly pauper and hope to see more articles on it in the future.