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Pauper Spellbook: Lightning Bolt

Greetings and welcome to another edition of Pauper Spellbook! It’s time to talk a little “Bolt-Snap-Bolt”… wait a second, isn’t this an article about Pauper!? Sorry, what I meant to say was… “Bolt-Archaeomancer-Bolt”! Today we’re setting our sights on one of the most iconic (and Pauper legal) Magic cards of all-time:
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Ah yes, Lightning Bolt! There isn’t really a whole lot to say here; Lightning Bolt is easily one of the most efficient and versatile Magic cards ever printed! And, it’s one of the oldest too, dating back to the original Alpha:
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Similar to its prominence in other eternal formats such as Legacy and Modern, Lightning Bolt is a key card that defines Pauper. Needless to say, if you’re building a “tier” deck or brewing up your own spicy Pauper concoction and Red is one of your colors, you should pretty much auto-include Lightning Bolt. There are exceptions to this rule. For instance, if you’re playing an artifact synergy deck like Affinity, you may choose to play Galvanic Blast instead of Lightning Bolt. That being said, unless you’re running a super linear and / or synergy based red deck that doesn’t scream for Lightning Bolt, you’ll almost always want to include it somewhere in your 75. Let’s crank up the voltage and jump into some decklists featuring our beloved Bolt.
By the numbers, Izzet Delver is currently the number one top-performing deck in Pauper. It’s a tempo based strategy built around this namesake:
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Delver, Delver, Delver… he’s everywhere! Delver of Secrets is the backbone of our deck, so we're packing a good amount of instant and sorcery spells. To start, here’s a look at a few important card filtering / selection spells that assist in our goal of flipping Delver of Secrets into Insectile Aberration on a consistent basis:
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The trio of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain not only enable a Delver flip if one of them is on top of our library, but also make it so we don't actually have to overload on instants and sorceries because all three are very strong at improving our ability to dig through our deck to find whatever we need based on the game state. On top of our premium card filtering spells we have a flexible package of interactive spells including the subject of this week’s Pauper Spellbook article:
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We can use Lightning Bolt to finish off our opponent or take down opposing creatures. Skred has gained some popularity in Pauper and makes for a fine removal spell as long as we make sure to include Snow-Covered basic lands in our deck! And since we're a two color deck we can safely run one of the best "hard counters" in the format, Counterspell. While Delver of Secrets may be our “lead singer”, we do have a tight selection of additional creatures to backup Delver:
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Faerie Miscreant is a fine One-drop to have alongside Delver of Secrets. It plays well into our tempo scheme, and has potential to provide some card advantage. Ninja of the Deep Hours is very good at keeping our opponents off balance and also draws us cards. Spellstutter Sprite is a versatile creature boasting fine attributes for just two mana, and much like Ninja of the Deep Hours, can keep our opponents second-guessing themselves.
Izzet Delver is currently the "Top-Dog" in Pauper, but there's another deck hot on it's tail. I'm talking about the purest of pure Lightning Bolt decks:
Well, I have some good news for all you Burn players out there: Mono Red Burn is another top contender in Pauper, and no card exemplifies the deck better than Lightning Bolt! Pauper Burn functions as an aggressive deck (as you would probably expect) and features a mix of popular spells that a lot of you will recognize:
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Chain Lightning, Rift Bolt, and Lava Spike are classic Burn staples in just about every format that the archetype flourishes in. However, in this Pauper version of the deck, we get to work with some unique spells that don't typically see play elsewhere:
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On the surface, Needle Drop doesn't look too threatening, but it is an efficiently costed instant speed spell which does replace itself by drawing a card. Curse of the Pierced Heart is another unusual card that seems fairly innocent, however, the damage it produces does start to add up, especially if we get multiple copies to stick around on the battlefield. To go along with these two scarcely played gems, we rely on a couple of creatures to really keep the deck on course and bury the opponent as quickly as possible:
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Thermo-Alchemist is a bonafied staple in Pauper Burn and is a card that the opponent needs to deal with quickly. On the other hand Ghitu Lavarunner is a fairly new Magic card that recently entered the fold with the release of Dominaria. Lavarunner has quickly become a potent threat for the deck but does still have some proving to do. For now though, Ghitu Lavarunner maintains it's position of being an important piece for the archetype.
Here we have a unique three color Pauper deck. Grixis Control (aka UBR) is packed with all kinds of sweet elements, not to mention, Lightning Bolt! The deck is base blue / red, but splashes black to add versatility into it's spell suite. You'll notice that this particular deck builder has opted for Snow-Covered lands like Izzet Delver, however, for no apparent reason as the deck doesn't include Skred or any other card that benefits from them. Along with the odd inclusion of Snow-Covered basics, the list above is quite interesting and complex. Let’s start with a peek at the creature suite:
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Being a hardcore control deck, we’re fairly light on creatures. Augur of Bolas is a staple in several Pauper decks because it provides a reasonably costed 1/3 body and replaces itself by not only drawing a card, but gives us a little bit of selection by digging three cards deep. Mulldrifter offers a reasonable flying body and provides raw card advantage. Stormbound Geist is a solid resilient threat. And remember during the intro when I alluded to Archaeomancer? Well, Grixis Control is a perfect home for Archaeomancer, who is capable of recycling any of our potent instant and sorcery spells. On that note, let's check out a few of our mixed removal spells:
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Having access to powerful removal spells like Flame Slash, Devour Flesh, and Terminate on top of spells like Lightning Bolt, Exclude, and Electrickery makes Grixis Control extremely versatile and capable of dealing with just about any type of creature based strategy. I find Devour Flesh particularly interesting. This deck builder has prioritized the instant speed capability and life gaining bonus of Devour Flesh over the recursion aspect of Pauper staple Chainer's Edict, which has been relegated to the sideboard. There's one more exotic piece of creature removal that deserves a mention too:
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Boom! Just like that, we've made it back to Homelands :)
So, we’re very well set with ways to interact with our opponent's creatures, but it doesn’t stop there. We won’t always be facing off against creature-dense strategies, so we also have some nice reactive cards such as Counterspell, Ghostly Flicker, and even Pyroblast to strengthen our mathcup against other Control decks. One of my favorite things about this deck is a powerful tutor card that takes a page out of Urza Tron’s book, and gives us the power to find just about any of our spells at a moment’s notice:
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Mystical Teachings is such a great example of what Pauper is all about; it's a critical component to the success of many blue Control strategies, and the flashback mechanic is a cornerstone of the format. Mystical Teachings is on-color and Grixis Control is spell heavy, so there's absolutely no reason to not include it. And, most importantly, Teachings makes sure that we can have this whenever we need it:
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Honestly, we’ve merely scratched the surface when it comes to Lightning Bolt’s involvement in the Pauper metagame. It can also be found in decks like Kuldotha Boros and Izzet Blitz, which is a more aggressive version of Izzet Delver. Lightning Bolt really does fit into just about any red deck, no matter what the makeup may be. Even the example I made earlier of Affinity opting to use Galvanic Blast over Lightning Bolt; truth be told, I’ve seen many successful Pauper Affinity decks run both spells side by side! Lightning Bolt is just that good. With all that being said, it’s hard to really unlock any hidden potential of Lightning Bolt because, well, it’s a card we all know and love. But I hope that each of you can at least take away something useful from this Pauper Spellbook entry. And if you’re just now looking to jump into Pauper and haven’t decided where to start, Lightning Bolt can be a great basis to work with, opens up a variety of possibilities, and caters to many playstyles as we’ve witnessed today.
Well, it's time to close the spellbook for now. Let me know what you think! Do you have a unique take on Lightning Bolt for Pauper? It would be great to here from you players with experience and / or insight regarding any of the decks we've covered today! As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!
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