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Pauper Spellbook: Rancor


Hello and welcome to another edition of Pauper Spellbook! Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you Green mages out there; for this week’s spellbook entry we’ll be focusing on a notoriously powerful Aura Enchantment card that adds a touch of unwavering aggression to many Pauper decks:
 
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Much like the previous subject of Pauper Spellbook (Lightning Bolt), Rancor is known to be one of the most efficient and powerful cards from Magic's past. And, on an even more beautiful note… it’s legal in Pauper! And sure enough, wielding the power of Rancor will have you feeling like Multani as he's illustrated in this iconic depiction by artist Kev Walker. For one single green mana, Rancor provides a healthy power boost and grants trample to the creature it enchants. And if that’s not enough value for your one mana investment, let’s tack on a second line of text which states that Rancor will be returned to its owner’s hand if it were to be placed into a graveyard… what!? Seriously, who designed this card!? Another important thing to recognize right off the bat about Rancor is that most versions of the card have actually been printed at Uncommon rarity. However, the very first printing of Rancor was from the set Urza’s Legacy, at which point the Enchantment was released as a Common.
 
Before we jump into decklists, I have a question for you: when I say Rancor, what’s the first deck you think of? Well, if the name of a slippery little Beast creature rolled off your tongue, we're on the same page! And for those of you who just weren’t sure or thought of something different… meh, I’m just gonna roll this one out:
 
 
Love it or hate it, Bogles is a legitimate competitive archetype in the Modern format. And sure enough, the same holds true for the Pauper version of the deck. As a matter of fact, if you were to look at a Modern Bogles decklist you would find that most of the cards that form the shell of the deck are Commons. There’s actually a good bit of overlap between the two decks, but fortunately, in Pauper we don’t have to drain our wallets on a playset of Horizon Canopy to complete the package! At it's core, Bogles is a fairly linear strategy. Our main objective is to stack as many Auras as possible on one of our creatures and punch through large chunks of damage. Let’s get started with the key element of our deck, hexproof creatures:
 
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Simply put, creatures like Slippery Bogle and Gladecover Scout are the reason why this archetype even exists. As long as we can resolve one of our hexproof creatures in the first or second turn of the game, we’ll usually have a solid chance of winning. Silhana Ledgewalker is a fine “backup” to our 1 CMC hexproof creatures and adds to the consistency of the deck by making sure we always have a creature to target with our Auras. Speaking of which, the deck is absolutely overflowing with Aura spells. Let’s take a look at some of the Auras that also appear in Modern Bogles:
 
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Rancor and Ethereal Armor are staples of the archetype. Rancor is good at… being Rancor! Ethereal Armor is a key Aura that often provides enough punch to finish off an opponent. It's so strong, sometimes I even question whether or not the card should have been an Uncommon all along! However, Ethereal Armor is quite narrow. I guess what I'm trying to say is that us Pauper players are lucky to have this card in the pool! With the release of Amonkhet, Bogles players quickly picked up on Cartouche of Solidarity, and the card has become a mainstay. It not only provides a decent power / toughness boost and first strike, but also adds a body to the board which is important in a format where Chainer's Edict flourishes! Now, let’s hit on a few key Auras that are unique to Pauper Bogles:
 
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Ancestral Mask is like a more expensive Ethereal Armor, but doubles the damage output and counts every Enchantment in play, including those controlled by our opponent. Utopia Sprawl and Abundant Growth enable us to splash more colors in the deck; looking at the sideboard, you'll notice that the deck secretly incorporates four colors. On top of the mana-fixing we get from these two Auras, Utopia Sprawl ramps us, and Abundant Growth replaces itself by drawing a card when it enters the battlefield.
 
Bogles is a powerful deck that looks to go "tall" with one creature and force through ample amounts of damage by stacking Enchanments. It's a fun deck to play and relatively easy to pilot, however, if going "Voltron" and piling an endless stream of Auras on a single creature isn’t your thing, no worries! Next up, we’re looking at a different kind of green deck that benefits from the power of Rancor:
 
 
Mono Green Stompy is a heavy-hitter in Pauper. It’s a fast aggressive deck that relies on efficiently costed creatures and a tight package of powerful “pump” spells such as Rancor and Vines of Vastwood that can turn any of our small monsters into a fearsome threat out of nowhere. When compared to a deck like Bogles, Stompy consists of a much higher creature density and has the ability to go both tall and "wide". Here are some key creatures that lead off our curve:
 
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Nettle Sentinel and Quirion Ranger are standouts in various versions of the Elves archetype and share the same pedigree when it comes to Stompy. Both creatures contribute on many fronts. Most importantly, they make it so we can stay aggressive while also playing defense. In essence, Nettle Sentinel is like a 2/2 with vigilance for one mana! Quirion Ranger adds to the complexity of the deck and specializes in keeping the deck consistent. Skarrgan Pit-Skulk is a simple 1/1 for one mana, but frequently enters the battlefield as a 2/2 and also has a light form of evasion (it's like the inverse of the keyword ability skulk... go figure!). With these three creatures leading the way we have a solid foundation, but things really begin to snowball out of control as we continue on curve. Let's hit on some of our 2 CMC creatures:
 
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Burning-Tree Emissary and Nest Invader are reasonably costed 2/2 creatures that add an element of exploxiveness to our gameplan by providing mana acceleration. Their use is pretty straightforward. Nest Invader comes with the perk of adding an additional body to the battlefield. River Boa is a sweet old school gem from Visions. It appears rather innocent, but has a significant place in Pauper because of all the Blue decks floating around! River Boa's regeneration ability also adds a subtle upside making the card a valuable asset.
 
Beyond summoning an impressive army of creatures we have some other tricks up our sleeve like Elephant Guide and Hunger of the Howlpack in addition to Vines of Vastwood and Rancor. Just as the deck name suggests, we're aiming to stomp the competition by quickly developing a positive board state and applying pressure right away. Sideboard strategies vary depending on personal taste. I really like how focused and decisive the above deckbuilder was when it came time to assemble a sideboard. 
 
A while back, I decided to piece together my own Rancor inspired Pauper brew that operates with more than one path to victory:
 
 
Selesnya Aggro is an aggressive deck with a sneaky “infinite” combo mixed in to catch our opponents off guard. As far as the concept for the deck… I played a decent amount of Magic back in 2009 during Zendikar block, and I remember having an exceptional fondness towards the card Steppe Lynx:
 
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Steppe Lynx is such a fun Magic card and quite powerful for a Common! So when I started working on Selesnya Aggro, Steppe Lynx was the first piece I wanted to build around. I considered going for a full blown landfall strategy, but decided against it for the sake of brewing up a diverse strategy. That being said, I ended up with a strange but versatile mix of creatures:
 
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Selesnya Aggro wants to explode out of the gate with One-drops, and the trio of Thraben Inspector, Sacred Cat, and Vault Skirge are all quality plays on turn one. Qasali Pridemage is our safety valve against pesky artifacts and enchantments and comes with the bonus of supplying exalted triggers. The deck isn’t particularly resilient, so having the ability to draw cards off of Clue tokens produced by Thraben Inspector is actually an important aspect of our plan. Vault Skirge and Sacred Cat fill similar roles by gaining us life which can buy time to either setup big attacks or stall until we can combo off with…
 
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Many of you know this janky combo. And even if you don’t, it’s one of the most straightforward infinite combos in Magic. In a nutshell, If we can successfully resolve a Midnight Guard and then target it with Presence of Gond, on our next turn we can make an infinite number of 1/1 Elf tokens. Simply put, if the opponent doesn’t have an answer, the game ends quickly with one massive alpha strike! So, we’re working with a tight group of efficient creatures and we have the ability to win games out of nowhere with the Gond combo, but another important factor to winning with the deck comes down to suiting up our little creatures with a pair of over-the-top Auras:
 
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I decided to take a page out of the Bogles playbook and include Rancor and Armadillo Cloak. Both Auras pack a big punch in the deck. In fact, being able to resolve one or more of these Auras can really make or break our chances of finding a path to victory, especially if our opponent is keen to our infinite combo shenanigans. Vault Skirge is an optimal target for either Aura, but my favorite play is targeting Steppe Lynx with these Enchantments. It just feels good to smash into an opponent with a huge 10/11 Steppe Lynx!
 
Selesnya Aggro is a work in progress that I'll continue to develop. It's a fun deck that's capable of winning and also caters to the budget conscientious. It's also worth noting that a good portion of the monetary investment is in the sideboard, which you can develop over time. The main deck is ultra affordable, and most of the cards involved are flexible Pauper staples with multiple applications. Give it a shot!

Conclusion

I recall on several occasions hearing my buddies talk about their days playing Magic during Urza’s block. And Rancor always seemed to be a focal point of their recollections. Over time, I myself came to realize the absolute raw power that Rancor bestows upon us Magic players. On the surface, Rancor seems pretty simple. But when you consider the wide range of archetypes the card can fit into, it adds a subtle layer of depth and importance. It’s one of the most efficient and value-driven cards from Magics illustrious past. Rancor is one of my favorite Commons of all time, and it's definitely a critical component of my Pauper Spellbook!
 
Well, this concludes another edition Pauper Spellbook. Let me know what you think! How can I improve my Selesnya Aggro brew? As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!
 
If you enjoyed this content, please help support me with a quick follow on Twitter - @WallofOmens
 
-John
 
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