Rant of Valakut: The Aristocrat and the Pauper (Part 1) Ben Iverach-Brereton May 6, 2019 Rants of Valakut Pauper players are everywhere these days, and I’m excited. I’ve always wanted to get into the format, and my local game store runs pretty regular Pauper events. I’ve had a lot of fun watching content like Pauper Ponderings, AnyNewProvince and the MCQ earler this year, and I think I’ve started to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. This wasn’t always the case. About a year ago my local game store did their first Pauper tournament, so I made a deck and gave it a try. I ended up cobbling something together in about a day from what I owned, without much forethought. What I ended up with was a terrible pile of cards that looked more like a mediocre Limited deck than anything else, something I quickly learned wouldn’t cut it in a surprisingly powerful format like Pauper. I got picked apart by Delver, crushed by Tron, and swarmed by Elves without so much as a chance at beating them. While it was a bit disheartening at the time, it really gave me an appreciation for the format, and also something to work towards. If you’ve read any of my deck building articles you’ll know that I don’t like to use existing decks; I would much rather lose with something I’ve designed and tested myself than win with a deck list I’ve found online. Of course the ultimate goal is always to win with my own deck, but as I learned with Modern that takes a lot of time and effort to achieve. My big takeaway from my first failed attempt at Pauper was that if I was going to brew something for this format I had a lot to learn about it first. Here’s the deck I ultimately came up with, but getting to this list was a bit of a journey: Resourceful Aristocrats (Pauper) Creature3 x Thraben Inspector4 x Doomed Traveler2 x Footlight Fiend2 x Viscera Seer1 x Plagued Rusalka1 x Carrion Feeder4 x Perilous Myr3 x Sultai Emissary3 x Bloodthrone Vampire2 x Cadaver Imp2 x Spark Reaper4 x Falkenrath Noble Instant3 x Tragic Slip1 x Costly Plunder Sorcery3 x Resourceful Return1 x Rite of Consumption Land4 x Vault of Whispers4 x Ancient Den4 x Scoured Barrens2 x Orzhov Basilica4 x Swamp (239)2 x Barren Moor1 x Mortuary Mire1 x Bojuka Bog Sideboard2 x Oblivion Ring1 x Death’s-Head Buzzard2 x Veteran Armorer1 x Sylvok Lifestaff1 x Gnawing Zombie1 x Unmake3 x Mesmeric Fiend2 x Thorn of the Black Rose1 x Gurmag Angler1 x Chainer’s Edict Buy This List – Rants of Valakut (Ben Iverach-Brereton) I began my Pauper quest by studying the decks that see play to get a feel for what cards I could expect to face. How efficient is the removal? What’s the typical toughness of a creature? Pauper is a diverse format, but just like Modern you see a lot of the same cards being played from deck-to-deck. If it’s a Red deck it will include Lightning Bolt, while Black decks almost always have a Chainer’s Edict and Gurmag Angler in them. White decks usually have Kor Skyfisher and Thraben Inspector. And so on. The mana bases usually feature a lot of the same land cycles, too: the Khans of Tarkir “Gain Lands” are a staple of the format, alongside the Mirrodin Artifact Lands. Ash Barrens is also a regular addition in most decks, providing colour fixing and a cheap way of shuffling your library after a Brainstorm. I decided to pick up a playset of some the land cycles I would most likely want to use, and once I had my mana base sorted out I could decide what deck, or decks, I would build. The lands for Pauper were all pretty cheap to pick up, and I liked giving myself as many options as possible. Once I had my lands sorted out, I dug through my collection to figure out what notable commons I already had to work with. Unlike the first tournament where I just threw a pile of commons together, this time I had done my research and had a decent idea of what I was looking for. My entire collection is admittedly pretty disorganized, so digging through it took a lot of time. Still, with some patience I was able to pull out a decent pile of format staples. There was just one catch: while I had a lot of the cards frequently used in Pauper, they were scattered across several archetypes. I probably had half the cards necessary for a decent Bogles, Delver, Burn or Boros deck, but not enough of any one deck to actually build it. Still, that wasn’t so bad; all I had to do was pick an archetype and I could easily flesh it out. I wasn’t all that excited about building Bogles or Burn, and I felt I had already explored most of the ins and outs of the Delver archetype with my Modern deck. The Boros Monarch deck appealed to me, given my love of enters-the-battlefield effects, but before I went out and bought cards for one of the most played decks in the format there was one more thing I wanted to try. While looking through my collection for staples I kept coming across cards that might work for one other archetype I hadn’t seen any lists for in Pauper: Aristocrats. I’ve always had a soft spot for Aristocrats decks. I got into Magic shortly before Innistrad came out, but it wasn’t until the releases of Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored that I really started to sink my teeth into deck building in a big way. My first proper attempt at a Standard deck was a home brewed Black-White Token deck centered around Falkenrath Noble and Blood Artist. I remember the first time I saw the spoiler for Blood Artist; I was ecstatic! Here was a Falkenrath Noble, but for half the mana. I whipped up a list straight away, and the day the set came out I grabbed a playset of the Artists. The deck I built was a clunky 65-card mess, but it was so much fun to play. One of these days I’ll tune that deck up for Modern, but that is a story for another time. Still, the idea of revisiting one of my favourite archetypes sounded great. My past experience with Aristocrats was actually pretty limited, so if I was going to succeeded at all with it in Pauper I knew I would need to do a bunch more research. How do you build a good deck in this archetype? How many lands does it typically play? What does its mana curve look like? What’s the division between interaction, sacrifice effects and value creatures? In an effort to answer these questions I looked up some lists from current and past Standards, as well as some Modern lists. These decks wouldn’t translate perfectly to what I was doing in Pauper, but seeing enough of them would allow me to spot some common trends. Hopefully a pattern would emerge, but even if these decks turned out to be vastly different that would be valuable information. Here are some of the lists I found for comparison: Mardu Aristocrats (Ravnica Allegiance Standard) Creature4 x Footlight Fiend4 x Gutterbones4 x Fireblade Artist4 x Hero of Precinct One4 x Priest of Forgotten Gods4 x Judith, the Scourge Diva3 x Midnight Reaper Instant3 x Mortify Sorcery4 x Heroic Reinforcements Enchantment2 x Theater of Horrors Land4 x Blood Crypt4 x Clifftop Retreat3 x Dragonskull Summit4 x Godless Shrine3 x Isolated Chapel4 x Sacred Foundry2 x Swamp (339) Sideboard4 x Duress4 x Lava Coil3 x Bedevil2 x Plaguecrafter2 x Angrath, the Flame-Chained Buy This List – MTG Goldfish Black-Green Aristocrats (Battle for Zendikar Standard) Creature4 x Nantuko Husk4 x Blisterpod4 x Carrier Thrall4 x Catacomb Sifter2 x Fleshbag Marauder2 x Grim Haruspex2 x Merciless Executioner4 x Sultai Emissary4 x Zulaport Cutthroat Instant2 x Complete Disregard Sorcery2 x Bone Splinters2 x Dutiful Return1 x Ruinous Path Land4 x Evolving Wilds4 x Forest (347)3 x Opulent Palace2 x Rogue’s Passage10 x Swamp (339) Sideboard2 x Complete Disregard2 x Despise2 x Duress4 x Feed the Clan2 x Gurmag Angler2 x Ultimate Price Buy This List – Standard Black-Green Aristocrats (Melissa DeTora) The Aristocrats (Gatecrash Standard) Creature4 x Doomed Traveler4 x Champion of the Parish4 x Cartel Aristocrat2 x Skirsdag High Priest3 x Knight of Infamy2 x Silverblade Paladin4 x Boros Reckoner4 x Falkenrath Aristocrat1 x Restoration Angel2 x Zealous Conscripts Instant4 x Orzhov Charm Sorcery2 x Lingering Souls Land4 x Godless Shrine4 x Blood Crypt4 x Sacred Foundry4 x Isolated Chapel3 x Plains (331)3 x Cavern of Souls1 x Clifftop Retreat1 x Vault of the Archangel Sideboard1 x Skirsdag High Priest2 x Lingering Souls2 x Blasphemous Act2 x Rest in Peace2 x Sorin, Lord of Innistrad2 x Obzedat, Ghost Council3 x Tragic Slip1 x Mentor of the Meek Buy This List – Pro Tour Gatecrash Winning Decklist (Wizards of the Coast) These Aristocrat decks saw significant play when legal in Standard, and while the specific cards in each deck vary greatly, a number of similarities stand out to me: Each deck runs approximately 23 lands. Each deck has around 8 cards that can sacrifice creatures. Each deck can drain an opponent’s life when something dies. Each deck grinds out some sort of card advantage with its creatures, usually with tokens. Each deck can set up one big “combo” turn, whether by attacking with a 20/20 or by pumping up the team. Even the Modern lists I looked at, and the relatively new Pauper Zombie deck I found, echoed these same properties. B/W Aristocrats (Modern) Creature4 x Champion of the Parish4 x Doomed Traveler1 x Bloodsoaked Champion2 x Viscera Seer2 x Blood Artist4 x Dark Confidant4 x Cartel Aristocrat3 x Zulaport Cutthroat3 x Tidehollow Sculler Instant3 x Path to Exile Sorcery4 x Return to the Ranks4 x Lingering Souls Land4 x Concealed Courtyard4 x Godless Shrine4 x Marsh Flats4 x Shambling Vent2 x Vault of the Archangel2 x Plains (331)2 x Swamp (339) Sideboard2 x Leyline of Sanctity1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar2 x Fragmentize1 x Zealous Persecution1 x Liliana, the Last Hope2 x Liliana of the Veil1 x Collective Brutality3 x Thoughtseize1 x Fatal Push1 x Damnation Buy This List – Deck of the Day: B/W Aristocrats (Eric Froelich) Pauper Zombies (Pauper) Creature3 x Carrion Feeder4 x Festering Mummy2 x Shambling Goblin1 x Gnawing Zombie3 x Shepherd of Rot3 x Sultai Emissary3 x Ghoulraiser1 x Infernal Caretaker2 x Gray Merchant of Asphodel3 x Gempalm Polluter Instant2 x Tragic Slip2 x Geth’s Verdict3 x Nameless Inversion Sorcery2 x Ghoulcaller’s Chant1 x Cemetery Recruitment1 x Chainer’s Edict2 x Sign in Blood Land2 x Barren Moor20 x Swamp (339) Sideboard3 x Duress1 x Sylvok Lifestaff2 x Cuombajj Witches2 x Wrench Mind3 x Choking Sands2 x Gutless Ghoul2 x Oblivion Strike Buy This List – Pauper Zombies (MTG Goldfish) I looked again at the Common cards I had set aside, this time with a good idea of what all I would need for an Aristocrats deck. A picture began to form of how the deck would function, but something was still missing. The pile of cards I had were ok, but they didn’t feel like they would do enough in a format like Pauper. I eventually did find a solution with the help of Resourceful Return and the Mirrodin Artifact Lands, but that story will have to wait until next time. I hope you’ll join me for Part 2 as I go over the original version of my deck, how it did in its first tournament, and why I made the changes that I did. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments how you approach formats you haven’t played before. Do you dive head first into a format with a home brew, or do you prefer starting off with an established deck? Do you like to do any research beforehand, and if so what resources do you use? 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