Earlier this year I participated in the Jankyard Winter League, put together by my friend JT. Each week, players would play two matches on Arena of that round’s designated format, which changed week to week. We played Standard, Brawl, Gladiator and Historic Pauper, just to name a few. It was a fun challenge to come up with a new deck each week, and I even discovered some new formats as a result, like Gentry. The league participants were all very friendly, and even if I didn’t do especially well in my matches, it was a good experience.

One thing that came out of the league was my expanded collection of Arena deck lists. I still dig them out to grind daily quests, or just to play something a little different when the mood strikes me. Recently, I started focusing on one deck in particular; it’s the one I used for Standard Pauper week:

UW Pauper Skies

Standard (Pauper)
by Ben Iverach-Brereton


The plan for the deck was simple: play a couple of cheap fliers, make them bigger, and keep attacking until you win. It was inspired by a flying deck an old friend of mine used years ago, when he tried introducing me to Magic. My friend’s deck didn’t have an aura sub-theme like mine, but I seem to recall an anthem effect or two in there to buff everything.

The deck I put together for the league served me well enough, though playing with it more, I found I was running into frequent mana problems. It was nice to have access to blue mana for Bind the Monster and Into the Roil, and Pilfering Hawk did a good job to filter my draws in longer games, but all those tapped lands and basic islands were getting in the way. Games where I lead with two basic plains just went better than when I had a blue source in my opening hand.

The ideal rollout for the deck involved playing a one mana creature, followed by a cheap aura and a Codespell Cleric on the next turn to make a big attacker. With the blue splash, that sequence proved inconsistent, and it meant delaying my game plan for at least a turn.

Those delays also meant that Daybreak Chimera was less effective. While not necessarily the cornerstone of the deck, a 3/3 flier for two mana is quite good, and it’s still pretty efficient for three. Spending much more than that, however, and the Chimera begins to lose its luster. Having a mix of white and blue permanents in the deck meant greatly hindered the spell’s cost reduction, and its double-white mana requirement didn’t help matters. It just wasn’t a good fit for a deck with basic islands.

I could either cut Daybreak Chimera, or cut a colour, and I came to the conclusion that it would be much smoother if the list was mono-white. The Winter League ended just as Strixhaven came out, so tinkering with the deck now also gave me an opportunity to try out some new cards.

After some experimenting, this is what I came up with:

Flying Lessons

Standard (Pauper)
by Ben Iverach-Brereton

I wanted to stick with the same rarity restriction for this new version of the deck as a personal challenge. I tend to enjoy playing with lower rarity cards, and besides, if the deck worked well enough with only commons beforehand, why change it now?

Restricting myself to common cards also gave me an opportunity to test some things out for potential use in the Pauper format, once paper Magic is a thing again. I’m not sure if creatures like Codespell Cleric and Daybreak Chimera can effectively stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Spellstutter Sprite or Gurmag Angler, but if I can make them work in Standard against regular decks, there’s a reasonable chance they could work in Pauper.

Looking at Strixhaven commons, the spicy new tech is clearly the “lesson plan” sideboard. In a way, lessons give this deck a better source of card advantage than Behold the Multiverse ever did; that’s not to say that Study Break provides more card advantage, far from it, but unlike Behold, I’m not taking time off from attacking to get more cards when I go looking for a lesson.

Study Break is a good way to clear a path for my creatures, and it slows down opposing threats when racing, potentially making the difference between a win and a loss. If my opponent isn’t playing any creatures, I can also just fire off Study Break with zero targets to go get something from my sideboard. The first spell I gravitate towards is almost always Expanded Anatomy to buff a creature, if I’m worried about removal I can also grab an Inkling or Spirit Summoning for an extra body; they’re a bit expensive to cast, but it’s still better to create an over costed creature token than to run out of threats in play.

I only have the one learn spell in the deck, so I usually don’t get more than two lessons in any single game. As such, three or more copies of the same card would be overly redundant in the sideboard. This leaves plenty of room for other options, even with only seven slots available in best-of-one games. A single copy each of Environmental Sciences and Introduction to Annihilation add a lot of flexibility to the lesson plan, and while it’s rare that I’ll grab either of them, there’s no downside to including them. When they’re good they’re very handy, and when they’re bad, I can just stick to the usual spells instead.

I briefly experimented with Guiding Voice to have an additional way to access the sideboard, but found the spell to be lackluster in this deck. As a one-mana buff spell, Valor of the Worthy to be a much better fit; not only does the aura provide a free body if my creature is removed, but it also adds to my devotion to white for the purposes of casting Daybreak Chimera.

Guiding Voice is clunky by comparison; if the creature I buffed with Voice were to be removed, for instance, it would take an additional three mana to get a replacement body into play. Study Break works because it buys me time to cast my lessons, and opens up lines of attack. Guiding Voice falls short of that.

“The spirit’s name is Mark.”

Perhaps the oddest inclusion in this deck is Make Your Mark. My past experience with the nearly-identical Otherworldly Outburst never quite lived up to my expectations, so I was initially very skeptical of this hybrid version. That said, I’m glad I tried it; in a deck with so many cheap spells, it’s easy to keep up a single mana, and the payoff has been worthwhile. This deck’s tendency to stack up several buffs on a single creature turns it into removal magnet, and Make Your Mark gives me a way to keep up pressure after the target dies.

I tried find ways for this deck to power through opposing removal spells, since I knew this would be a fragile all-eggs-one-basket sort of strategy. Make Your Mark and Valor of the Worthy go a long way toward that goal of endurance by replacing the dying creature immediately, but what really gives this deck its second wind is its ability to turn the cards in its graveyard into fuel.

Stalwart Valkyrie is a great follow up play when a creature dies, and as a 3/2 flier it’ll already about the same size as whatever was destroyed. In some cases it’ll actually be bigger! Alongside the Valkyrie is Sentinel’s Eyes, coming back from the graveyard over and over to ensure this deck can quickly rebuild. Admittedly, this strategy is weak against exile effects, and there’s no shortage of those floating around Standard right now, but it’s still better than nothing.

This revised version of the deck is by no means perfect, but I think it’s a marked improvement over what I had originally. The mono-white version is faster and more consistent, which is exactly what an aggressive deck like this needs to be. I plan to win before the opponent has a chance to set up, and any delay can be devastating. If the game goes on too long, this deck will inevitably run out of steam; it’s a crushing defeat when it happens, but that’s the risk you take with this kind of strategy.

Despite the risks, this collection of common cards does pretty well for itself. It’s good at punishing decks that stumble early on, and those that neglect to run enough early interaction. The deck’s ability to quickly rebuild, as well as the evasive nature of its threats, lets me stay on the offensive longer. Attacking every turn means it won’t take long before I’m presenting lethal damage, and at that point it’s just a case of tapping down a blocker to win.

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