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Playing Pauper: One-Land Spy

Playing Pauper is back! Last week, we had an Instant Deck Tech for a crazy Pauper combo deck called One-Land Spy. On paper, the deck looks like the definition of Against the Odds, but sometimes decks that look weird in paper actually end up very powerful in practice. As such, we're going to take One Land Spy for a spin today and see if it's actually possible for the deck to combo off and win some games. The combo itself is pretty convoluted but basically involves getting our single land out of our deck so we can mill our entire library with Balustrade Spy, make a bunch of mana with Songs of the Damned, reanimate Anarchist to get back Haunting Misery to exile a bunch of creatures from our graveyard, and kill our opponent in one shot. In theory, we can do this as early as Turn 1 with our best draws, but it takes a lot of things to go right for the combo to actually work. Can One-Land Spy work in Pauper? Let's get to the video and find out!

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Playing Pauper: One-Land Spy


  • First off, the record. It was bad. Our video is actually a mashup of two different leagues, and my our overall record in those leagues was 1-8. While a chunk of our losses came to Delver, which is a miserable matchup for our deck, after playing a bunch of matches, it seems that One-Land Spy is certainly an Against the Odds deck for the Pauper format. While I'm sure we could have played the deck tighter (it's actually really difficult to play—even though the combo is fairly simple, trying to figure out which hands to keep is extremely challenging) and picked up a few percentage points, I'm not sure we would have won any more matches, no matter how well we played.
  • What makes it so hard to win with One-Land Spy? There are actually several reasons. 
  • A big issue is that we need three combo pieces in our hand to win the game. First, we need our single basic Forest out of our deck, which means either drawing the Forest or one of our four Land Grants. Second, we need Balustrade Spy, and while we have a few ways to dig or tutor for it, this can still be a challenge. Third, we Songs of the Damned to make enough mana to combo off (although theoretically, we can win without it if we have enough Dark Rituals and Cabal Rituals and also our one Haunting Misery in hand). While we do have some cyclers and Gitaxian Probe, thanks to the fact that we need more than 20 creatures in our deck for the combo to work and don't have much real mana, we don't have Ponders or Preordains to set things up, which means we're just hoping to draw the missing combo piece naturally. We had a lot of games where we were one card short of having the combo kill. 
  • Another issue with the deck is that, unless we have a really fast Turn 1 or 2 kill, a lot of different things beat us. In game one, counterspells are really tough to beat, and oddly, creature removal is really strong against One-Land Spy as well, since a lot of our mana production comes in the form of creatures like Wild Cantor and Timber Wall, which need to sit on the battlefield for a turn or two. After sideboarding, you can add graveyard hate to the list of really hard to beat cards. The end result is that a lot of decks have at least something that is really good against what we are trying to do. 
  • We learned a hard lesson in our matches: Conjurer's Bauble doesn't save you from dying to drawing on an empty library after you cast a Balustrade Spy, so make sure you have enough mana (or the right cards in hand) to win the game after you mill your entire library.  
  • Crypt Rats was weird, and I'm not sure how we ever actually win with it. While it can be helpful as a wrath, the fact that we don't have much repeatable mana means its really hard to cast cards fairly. If we use our mana to play and activate Crypt Rats, we'll need a bunch of turns to draw more mana to try to combo off. 
  • The good news is that the deck can kill as early as Turn 1. All we need is Land Grant (or the Forest), Lotus Petal, two Dark Rituals, Balustrade Spy, and Songs of the Damned in our opening hand. 
  • The biggest challenge with the deck is figuring out which hands to keep. It's pretty unlikely that we just happen to have all three combo pieces (although it's amazing when it happens), so most of the time, we are keeping hands with one or two combo pieces and hoping to draw the rest. It's probably worth mulliganing many hands that only have one combo piece and pretty much all hands that have zero combo pieces. 
  • So, should you play One-Land Spy in Pauper? If your goal is to win a tournament, the answer is pretty clearly no. The deck is just way too inconsistent and gets beat by a lot of popular cards in the Pauper format. On the other hand, one of the great aspects of Pauper is that the format is cheap. While a janky Against the Odds deck in Modern might cost $500 or even $1,000, One Land Spy is less than $100. As such, if you want to get the "I won a Pauper game on Turn 1" merit badge or have some ideas on how to make the deck more consistent, it won't set you back too much to pick up the pieces. Basically, when it comes to One-Land Spy in Pauper, you won't win very often, but the games you do win will be some of the fastest and most spectacular combo kills available in the format!


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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