Last Tuesday, my friend Jess sent me a text asking if I wanted to attend Mox Boarding House’s Rags to Riches tournament with her on Saturday. It was her first time attending a Competitive REL event, and even though I had never played Pauper before, I decided to give it a shot. Knowing next to nothing about the format, I was pleased to find the Izzet Blitz archetype, as I have played the Modern version of the deck quite a bit.
I spent some time scouring decklists online, but was perplexed by the lists that I saw. They all seemed more intent on having a subpar late game with extra dig at the expense of the explosiveness that the card Kiln Fiend embodies. This seemed a necessary evil given the paltry eight win conditions, but since prowess has recently become an evergreen keyword, it seemed that a suitable analog must exist. After a trip through Gatherer, I found what I needed and the decklist flowed from there:
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivix Cyclops
4 Spellweaver Eternal
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Mutagenic Growth
4 Temur Battle Rage
2 Vapor Snag
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Swiftwater Cliffs
1 Terramorphic Expanse
My list ended up deviating from stock Pauper lists by quite a bit, so allow me to explain some of my reasoning.
This is the biggest change I made, and dictates all the other adjustments. The move from Augur to Spellweaver exemplifies a change in intent: while Augur adds some resiliency, Spellweaver provides four more potential win conditions. Spellweaver is not as strong a threat as Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops (though Afflict is surprisingly relevant), but that brings me to the next major change that I made.
By doubling the number of “free” spells in the list, my build is able to leverage Spellweaver Eternal’s single prowess triggers to pressure significant damage on a single attack. Manamorphose (a staple of the Modern version) supports the goal of increasing your single-turn spell count while replacing itself, and is the single greatest driver to Turn 3 kills. Daze provides free interaction as you attempt to resolve a Temur Battle Rage and also doubles as a proactive pump spell by pointing it at your own spells when you just need that one last trigger. The deck just wants to deal 20 damage as quickly as possible, and maximizing its ability to do so is important.
Even with the printing of Ash Barrens, I’m not sold on Brainstorm in Pauper, at least not in this deck. Brainstorm often requires a shuffle effect to be productive; Ash Barrens, Terramorphic Expanse, and Evolving Wilds all cost one virtual mana to shuffle (Ash Barrens‘ ability costs one mana and the others require the land you find to come into play tapped), effectively turning Brainstorm into a two-mana spell. The effect is obviously powerful, and if the two-mana cost is a palatable, I understand playing it. I just don’t think that it’s well suited for such an aggressive build of Izzet Blitz.
Round 1: UR Delver – Both of us were playing in our first Pauper matches ever, but while it was my opponent’s first match at Competitive REL, I had him by a few hundred on that count. In Game 1, I had a relatively straightforward Turn 4 kill with a Cyclops, but in Game 2, my opponent revealed a Dispel to his Delver on Turn 2, which required me to play it safer, attacking in chunks of 4 and 5 with my Spellweaver. I didn’t want to subject a Battle Rage to the Dispel until I could protect it with a Daze, and fortunately, I was able to go for it on Turn 6.
Round 2: Boros Monarch – This is the match-up where Spellweaver showed its value. Game 1 was a quick Turn 3 kill, but Game 2 became a slog between my opponent’s unending string of chump blockers and my inability to find a Battle Rage. By hitting for two a turn with afflict while cantripping and eating my opponent’s small creatures, I was able to maneuver into a position to get a small unblocked hit in, which proved to be lethal.
Round 4: UB Reanimator – This round ended up being my one loss of the tournament. In Game 1, my opponent Exhumed a Turn 2 Striped Riverwinder backed up with multiple removal spells, and I was never in the game. Game 2 was a quick Turn 3 kill, with Mutagenic Growth saving my Kiln Fiend from a Disfigure on my opponent’s second turn. Game 3 was more drawn out — the Eldrazi Skyspawners in my sideboard did their job by absorbing some Chainer’s Edicts, but the Reanimation package backup proved too much pressure for my taxed creatures to race.
Round 5: Elves – All three games I played in this match ended on Turn 3. Thankfully, in Game 3, I was able to find a line that involved Dazing my own Temur Battle Rage and paying for it to get the extra trigger needed to trample over a horde of elves for lethal.
Round 6: Mono White Heroic – Another race, but I felt confident in this match-up. My pump spells replace themselves while my opponent’s didn’t. I did drop a game, but the other two felt easy because of my card quantity. This match-up was the one where the Vapor Snags proved themselves most, swinging the race in my favor when I was on the draw.
Round 7: Dinner – Pairings worked out for me such that I was able to draw into Top 8 and grab some dinner after six long rounds of Magic.
Quarterfinals: UB Reanimator – This was the rematch of my loss from Round 4, and I was eager for redemption. Despite being on the draw as the eighth seed, I hit the ground running in Game 1 as he was still trying to set up. Game 2 was a fun game with lots of decisions: an early Gitaxian Probe showed a Shrivel and a Chainer’s Edict in my opponent’s hand, which seemed like a perfect answer to my hand of Spellweaver, Skyspawner, Skyspawner, Kiln Fiend. Without meaningful pressure, I was able to attack for two damage a turn with the Skyspawner until he was forced to expend the Shrivel for minimal value. After that, I was able to dump a slew of creatures on the board to try and push lethal the next turn. My opponent responded by dropping creatures of his own, threatening lethal if my swing wasn’t sufficient. On my attack, I Dispelled my second Temur Battle Rage to trample over for exactly lethal with my Kiln Fiend (targeting the Spellweaver would have left me a point short).
Semifinals: UB Control – I wasn’t excited for another Chainer’s Edict match-up, but felt like I could get through it. In Game 1, my opponent kept Recoiling my Cyclops, but I was able to recast it over and over again until I could catch my opponent with a Daze and attack for a lethal 21 in one shot. In Game 2, my opponent kept a speculative hand, and even while playing it slow and not exposing my Kiln Fiend to removal or countermagic on Turn 2, I was able to win on Turn 4.
Finals: UR Delver – In Game 1, I wanted to go for the win on Turn 3 with Daze back-up, but thankfully, Gitaxian Probe showed me the Dispel that would have stopped me and allowed me to play around it the rest of the game. I flooded out badly in Game 2, and never really felt like I was in the game. Finally, in Game 3, I made sure to keep my opponent on the back foot the entire time. By forcing him to answer my threats, I stopped him from making a dent in my life total, and eventually, I was able to find an opening to force a Battle Rage through when he left himself open to Daze.
The deck felt amazing and nothing I played against felt unwinnable. Going forward, I plan on doubling down on the free spells. Cutting a Gush was a mistake, and moving forward, I want to go back up to three Gushes and four Mutagenic Growths. The obvious place to make room for these spells is to trim the remaining interaction left in the deck. Vapor Snag did serve me well by helping me win some races, but it can do that job just fine out of the sideboard.
Most importantly moving forward, I’ve caught the Pauper bug. In less than a week’s time, Pauper has moved from a format perpetually stuck on my to-do list to having a reserved place in my Magic purse between her Legacy and Modern cousins.
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Nivix Cyclops” by Wayne Reynolds