(If you missed Part 1 of The Aristocrat and the Pauper, you can read it here.)
Looking over what I had put together for my Aristocrats deck in Pauper, I still felt like I was missing something. I stepped away from the project for a couple of days, but the deck idea stuck in my head. I kept mulling things over and tried to figure out what the deck needed. Things finally clicked together when I randomly stumbled across a copy of Resourceful Return.
In Limited this card was pretty good; the mana cost was low, and with an artifact in play Resourceful Return was a tidy little two-for-one. I also knew from my experience with Chart a Course in Modern that getting two cards for two mana was actually pretty powerful; it’s no Ancestral Recall or Treasure Cruise, but it’s still very efficient. Sign in Blood and Night’s Whisper certainly see play in formats like Pauper, so Resourceful Return promised to provide a good cost-to-card rate. That is, so long as I could find a way to reliably have an artifact in play. In some formats this might be an issue, but that’s not really the case in Pauper.
Pauper is one of the only formats where the Mirrodin Artifact Lands are legal, and can be played in multiples. These lands make it really easy to make Resourceful Return work, and even make a card like Costly Plunder worth considering. Costly Plunder is a decent one-time sacrifice effect, but with the artifact lands it can also act as a sort of Horizon Canopy, trading away excess lands for new cards.
With these artifact-dependant card advantage spells in the deck, I looked to include more ways of getting that card type into play; the artifact lands were a great start, but it was probably worth having some extra redundancy. Ultimately I opted to include some copies of Thraben Inspector and Perilous Myr. The former gave the deck more card draw, while the latter gave me a way to interact with opposing creatures. I was pretty pleased; not only did they interact favorably with Resourceful Return and Costly Plunder, but they were also good cards in their own right.
The inclusion of Perilous Myr also inspired me to try Footlight Fiend as another source of creature-based removal. Several lists that I ran into during my research included cards like Festering Mummy to shrink down and kill opposing threats, so Footlight Fiend might fit the same role. The question was, would I just be better off with the Mummy instead? In most scenarios the Fiend would function no differently from the Festering Mummy, but I felt it was better in more corner cases. Because I could deal damage directly to my opponent if need be, this gave my deck a bit of extra reach against defensive, high toughness decks. It also made the Fiend more relevant against creatureless control decks. The downside was that Festering Mummy could help to ‘whittle down’ larger creatures, but that didn’t feel as useful. Depending on what the metagame looked like, I could always swap these creatures out.
I continued fleshing out the deck, and dug out my Doomed Travelers. If there was one card I knew I wanted in the deck, it was this one; I had very fond memories of the Traveler from my old Standard deck, so finding another deck to use it in really appealed. I was tempted to also include Hunted Witness, which is ok, but while getting a flying Spirit token after dying is really good, getting a lifelinking Soldier token isn’t as useful. In a format filled with Spellstutter Sprites, Glint Hawks and Mulldrifters, having access to flying tokens is very important, but another 1/1 on the ground doesn’t actually do much to advance my game plan.
Of course, my deck couldn’t be all value creatures. I needed some sacrifice effects or this just wouldn’t be Aristocrats. The first creature that came to mind was Carrion Feeder, though I quickly discovered that they were very hard to find. I knew I owned some copies somewhere in my collection, but they all eluded me. After some digging I eventually figured out why they weren’t in any of my boxes: my copies were already key pieces in Commander decks I didn’t want to dismantle. It turns out I like sacrificing creatures no matter the format!
While digging for my Carrion Feeders I also came across some copies of Bloodthrone Vampire. At first I dismissed the vampire as redundant, but I knew I would need more than one sacrifice outlet. As it turned out, Bloodthrone Vampire proved to be significantly better than I expected, and I actually think I prefer it over Carrion Feeder most of the time. While I had dreams of a massive Carrion Feeder swinging in turn after turn, that never came to fruition; too often my sacrifice outlet would meet a removal spell, and that stockpile of counters would go to waste. Moreover, if I needed to set up blocks, the Feeder was useless, while the Bloodthrone Vampire made for a powerful deterrent. Still, both were worth including.
After a bit more puzzling and research I felt like I had a decent first draft of a deck. Pouring over the rest of my collection I was able to put together most of the list with cards I already owned. Including the sideboard I was only short about ten cards, and if necessary I could swap out most of those with something similar until I did some testing.
Here is the first version of the deck:
Resourceful Aristocrats (v 1.0)
– Rants of Valakut (Ben Iverach-Brereton)
I took this deck to the next Pauper event at my local game store and it did better than I expected. Given my first attempt at the format I expected to crash and burn, but in the end I won several games. Facing off against Elves, Familiar Combo, Mono-Black Land Destruction and Skred Delver, I managed to win at least one game against each of them. I only ended up winning one match (against Elves), but my deck still felt like it had some potential. My opponents were very complimentary of the deck, too, which was very encouraging. I knew I had some work to do to make the deck better, but it really did feel like I had something that could hold its own in the format.
After the tournament I made some tweaks and came up with version two of the deck. I removed some of the cards that underperformed and tried to streamline the deck’s game plan:
Resourceful Aristocrats (v 2.1)
– Rants of Valakut (Ben Iverach-Brereton)
First and foremost, I significantly undervalued how important it was to have a Falkenrath Noble in play with this deck. It turns out that the Noble is actually just incredibly good, especially since it even triggers off of my opponent’s creatures dying. I was worried that my low land count would mean having so many four-cost creatures would be awkward, but the payoff with this vampire is so amazing that it’s worth the risk. Plus, with more than one copy in play things get truly absurd, so having the full four copies seemed like a good plan.
To make room for the Falkenrath Nobles I decided to cut Dusk Legion Zealot entirely. While I liked having a cheap creature that replaced itself, the 1/1 body was just never good enough to matter. Unlike Thraben Inspector, which is a good blocker in the format, the Zealot was only ever mediocre. Maybe if I had some vampire synergies it would be worth including, but as it was it was basically filler. It’s too bad; I had high hopes for the Dusk Legion Zealot in Pauper, but this just wasn’t the right home for the card.
In the mana base I decided to add two Cycling lands to help fight against mana floods. To make room I removed the Terramorphic Expanses. The colour fixing in the deck is actually pretty good already, considering how few white sources it actually needs. As such, the Expanses proved somewhat redundant. I also wanted to avoid too many more lands entering tapped. I was also able to cut the single Plains from the deck, too, since it was really only in there to be found with Terramorphic Expanse. A small bonus to this change was that it also cut down on time spent shuffling; given how slow this deck can be to play, that’s not an insignificant concern!
In practice I found that Perilous Myr performed quite well. While I could use it for direct damage, it was mostly useful as a way of destroying opposing creatures. The Footlight Fiends were definitely a nice addition, but the second point of damage from the Myr was actually very relevant. When given the choice of creatures to return from my graveyard, Perilous Myr was almost always at the top of the list. Like with Falkenrath Noble, I wanted to make room in the list for that fourth copy. I traded out a Sultai Emissary for it, which felt a bit awkward at first, but looks like it should work out nicely.
I also decided to cut down significantly on Carrion Feeders. While they were an important piece of the puzzle, they ultimately failed to live up to my expectations. Having a one-mana sacrifice effect is great, and an ever-growing threat is nothing to scoff at, but Carrion Feeder was a perpetual magnet for removal. Viscera Seer and Plagued Rusalka fill a similar role in the deck, but provide better consistency and more interaction than the Feeder. When hit by a removal spell, the Seer and Rusalka are also a lot better, since they can grind out a bit of value by sacrificing themselves for a useful effect.
After all of those changes, there were still a couple of adjustments I wanted to make to the list. Notably I wanted to include the new card Spark Reaper, and to add some copies of Thorn of the Black Rose to my sideboard. The extra card advantage from these two cards would be nice, and so I set out to trim and tweak the list a little bit more. Spark Reaper took the place of a Carrion Feeder and a Costly Plunders, while Thorn replaced the Guardian of the Guildpact. Time will tell if I should be running more than two Spark Reapers, but with the various ways I can get creatures back from my graveyard I should be alright if the first Reaper is destroyed.
I’m eager to try the updated version of my deck at our next paper Pauper event. I’ve streamlined it, and feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements over my first version. The new deck feels more consistent, and should be better at executing its game plan. It probably needs more work, but if my experience with Modern has taught me anything, it’s that making a competitive deck takes a lot of time and testing to get right.
What about you? Have you tried Pauper yet? If so, what do you play? If not, what’s holding you back? It really is a sweet format, and while I’m not about to abandon everything to focus entirely on Pauper, it’s still an affordable, refreshing take on the game. I highly recommend it.