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Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / The Power of Pauper: The Wacky Wonderful World of Combo

The Power of Pauper: The Wacky Wonderful World of Combo


Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of The Power of Pauper! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be diving into the wide wide world of Combo decks in Pauper! There are plenty of wacky combo decks in this format, so it's fun to look at what those decks do and how they operate. We've also got some Challenges from last weekend to talk about.

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

C-C-C-Combo!

Most formats in Magic: The Gathering have some form of combo based strategies in them, and Pauper is no exception to that either. Most of the cards on the banlist in Pauper are actually in some way related to some form of combo piece, combo payoff, or an engine card that makes combos function. This includes cards such as Grapeshot and Frantic Search. The major reasoning behind much of these bannings largely has to do with the fact that unlike other formats, Pauper does not have good anti-combo tools to deal with a good number of the format's stronger combo payoffs and engines. Many of these cards that answer combo are often uncommon or higher in rarity, making it hard to have good ways to deal with strong combo.

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The Combo decks that currently exist in Pauper do so because more often than not they are generally answerable on some axis of interaction by tools already in the format, whether that is via creature removal, countermagic, or simply racing the opponent's life total before their combo takes form (as many of the combo decks of the format, while reasonably fast aren't as fast as similar combo decks in other formats). This makes combo decks in Pauper very interesting and powerful fun options to play.

We're going to look at some of the more predominant combo decks of the format, as well as some of the ways to play against them.

Walls

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Walls as a deck has actually been around for quite a long time in the format, but there were several key printings that really enabled a lot of the deck's hyper redundant nature. One of those was Winding Way from Modern Horizons as another version of Lead the Stampede, but the other was Shield-Wall Sentinel from Dominaria United. Having an additional tutor card that worked alongside the deck's existing tutor effect in Drift of Phantasms really boosted the deck's ability to not only assemble its combo pieces but have redundant ways of finding them as well.

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Walls functions on sheer redundancy, playing a ton of creatures that generally have the keyword Defender and also make lots of mana (examples being both Overgrown Battlement and Axebane Guardian). Because of this massive redundancy in its mana producing creatures, the deck is afforded the ability to run very few lands. This makes its hits off of both Winding Way and Lead the Stampede often much more explosive in nature since it can usually draw over half the cards looked at by these cards. On the flip side of this, the deck plays mainly basic Forests for the sheer reason that it allows the deck to abuse the synergy between Quirion Ranger and mana producing defender creatures to make even more mana.

The way that this deck generally wins is by deploying its creatures to make mana as part of its game plan, and then leverage that mana into an "untap" effect such as Galvanic Alchemist or Freed from the Real in conjunction with a mana producing creature that produces a lot of mana. For example, as long as Axebane Guardian is tapping for more than one mana, putting a Freed from the Real on it means that the Guardian can repeatedly untap for U and net mana each time, which allows it to make a lot of mana in short order. Because of this, the deck typically wins the game by utilizing cards like Valakut Invoker (to repeatedly deal 3 damage to the opponent) or Secret Door (to repeatedly loop through Lost Mine of Phandelver to kill the opponent). There is additional redundancy afforded here by the tutor packages of Drift + Shield-Wall, but also generally cards like Vivien's Grizzly can be used to draw through the deck or cards like Third Path Savant to draw cards as well.

Where Walls falls apart is often in the fact that it needs to mulligan to a functional game plan hand of both mana production and tutors or payoffs. The deck is especially susceptible to sweeper effects, notably cards like Krark-Clan Shaman which despite most of the creatures in the deck being 0/3 or 0/4s can often succumb to a bunch of artifacts sacrificed to wipe clean the board. This can lead to situations where the Walls player has overextended and it becomes very difficult to rebuild after a board wipe like this. It is very difficult to 1-for-1 Walls however, because it plays many redundant effects. Another consideration is to go after the creature that is being Soulbonded or having Freed from the Real attached to it, as creature removal on that can often mean that they can't produce their combo. Countermagic is also useful against key pieces, as again, the deck only has to get one of its two primary untap effects in play. The fact that the deck has a virtual 7 of these (as Shield-Wall Sentinel can be a tutor for Drift of Phantasms to transmute into a payoff) is what really allows it to be redundant in those matchups, giving the deck the ability to pick and choose its spots in running the opponent into situations where removal or countermagic are impossible to stop the combo.

This is a super interesting and fun deck in the format. It has a lot of truly unique angles of attack and it plays very much like Legacy Elves does with all the untap shenanigans that occur from Quirion Ranger.

Combo Goblins

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Combo Goblins as a deck came about due in part to two cards, one of those being Putrid Goblin from Modern Horizons and First Day of Class from Strixhaven. This deck utilizes the interaction between First Day of Class and the Persist mechanic from the Goblin where when a +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter exist on a creature they in a sense cancel each other out.

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By utilizing this synergy between these two cards, the deck can in a sense make infinite red mana by repeatedly sacrificing the Goblin with Skirk Prospector with a First Day of Class effect in play. Eventually the deck gets to a point where it has all the mana in the world and then can start using that mana to repeatedly sacrifice the Goblin to Makeshift Munitions to kill the opponent. In addition to having that as a win condition, the deck can also use Goblin Matron to tutor up Dark-Dweller Oracle which can dig for the Munitions if the player doesn't have one in hand. The deck also plays a number of artifact-centric cards that see play in a number of other decks such as Deadly Dispute and Ichor Wellspring.

Because this deck's method of winning is very keyed in on such a specific combo, the deck often plays disruption spells like Duress to ensure the coast is clear and cards like Unearth to rebuy creatures from the graveyard if it needs to. This deck also offers some very cute tricks due in part because First Day of Class is an Instant. You can perform actions such as sacrificing Putrid Goblin to Skirk Prospector for a red and use that red and another mana with the Persist trigger on the stack to cast First Day of Class to enable its effect.

As this deck is also a highly creature centric deck, the key to understanding how to beat this deck lies in really understanding how the combo works. There is a very hard trigger in the Persist trigger that exists each iteration of making mana and that trigger can be responded to by pointing removal towards cards like their Skirk Prospector for example. It's for this reason that often playing more than Prospector out to the board can help with answering 1-for-1 based removal. Another way to attack this deck is by also utilizing one-shot graveyard interaction like Nihil Spellbomb or Faerie Macabre with the Persist trigger on the stack. Removing their ability to enable their combo makes it hard for the deck to rebuild and win the game. It's also possible to interact with instant speed sweeper effects like Breath Weapon as many of the creatures are X/2s or less.

Cycle Storm

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Cycle Storm is quite interesting as a deck. A good majority of cards that carry the "Storm" mechanic are banned in the format, which leaves a lot of very interesting and obscure cards like Reaping the Graves and Weather the Storm. Cycle Storm is a deck that utilizes the power of Reaping the Graves to great effect in addition to a plethora of fast mana that the format has available to it such as Dark Ritual, Songs of the Damned, and Lotus Petal. Because of some of these cards it makes Cycle Storm also one of the format's more expensive decks to build currently (mainly due to the price of Lotus Petal).

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This deck functions on utilizing the fast mana of the format in conjunction with creatures that have the Cycling ability, and then using Reaping the Graves to pull those creatures back to do it all over again (after casting a bunch of fast mana spells to enable storm count). The deck not only draws a bunch of cards doing this, but it also allows the deck to enable payoffs such as Horror of the Broken Lands and Drannith Stinger to win the game with. It can also enable using Drannith Healer to keep itself alive through all of this setup.

The major issue with Cycle Storm is needing to mulligan to a functional hand, and the deck can do this well enough, but it needs a mixture of payoff, cyclers, and fast mana to get going. The deck also can be somewhat susceptible to graveyard hate if targeted at the right moment. Reaping the Graves is an instant so a good amount of one shot graveyard hate needs to really pick and choose a moment to hit the deck due to the fact that a Reaping can land on top of the graveyard hate and negate it.

This is a very technical deck and very interesting. I suspect we would see more of this deck if the price of Lotus Petal were a bit lower.

Poison Storm

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This deck is relatively new to the format, given that a good number of its cards came out of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, namely cards like Infectious Inquiry and Prologue to Phyresis.

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This deck is not so much of a traditional A+B combo deck as it is more of an engine. The idea here is to give your opponent poison counters and then string along Proliferate spells (some of which also draw cards like Vivisurgeon's Insight) until the opponent reaches 10 poison counters and is dead. The deck also uses cards like Weather the Storm as a buffer to keep alive through whatever their opponent may be doing. It also has cards like Serrated Arrows in order to put -1/-1 counters on creatures to proliferate off of.

The name of this deck is just redundant effects, but typically if you are able to stop the first spell that gives a poison counter and keep clean of poison for a bit, closing the game on this deck can then be pretty easy if you have the clock in place to do so. The deck doesn't play any creatures, so it has to rely on turns where it can play multiple spells and Weather the Storm to try to stay ahead of aggressive strategies. Because of this, sometimes racing this deck can be a good way to get a leg up on it (for example, decks like Bogles that can't be hit by Serrated Arrows can often times have a massive creature that outpaces their life gain).

This is still a pretty sweet deck and I'm glad to see it hanging about.

Hangar Scrounger Combo

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There's a number of different ways that this deck can be built, and we haven't truly seen yet whether this combo is any good in the current format, but it hinges on new card Hangar Scrounger from March of the Machine and Seeker of Skybreak.

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The combo here is as A+B as it gets. You play Seeker of Skybreak and then the following turn cast Hangar Scrounger. With the Backup 1 ability, you target Seeker of Skybreak which then gives it the triggered ability of "Whenever this creature becomes tapped, you may discard a card. If you do, draw a card." Then you activate Seeker of Skybreak targeting itself, trigger the ability and start looping through your library.

The way that this deck wins can be done a number of different ways really. There's things like Fists of Flame + Bitter Reunion for a lethal strike, or Scrapyard Salvo / Haunting Misery to deal a bunch of damage to the opponent. The deck can either be built in Gruul colors or Jund and can have different protectionary measures (Duress. Tamiyo's Safekeeping, etc.) to protect its combo.

The big downside of this combo is that it is wholly reliant on casting a creature that has to sit in play an entire turn cycle before it can do anything since it needs to tap to activate its ability. It also has to survive being targeted with the Backup ability from Scrounger, so the whole combo is quite frankly very fragile in a lot of ways. There are a number of ways to try to protect it so when you go for it you have it, but overall, the combo has a ton of interaction points either through countermagic or simply removing the key piece (Seeker of Skybreak) to fold them over on the combo.

Reanimator

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Did you know that cards like Exhume are 100% Pauper legal? That's right, they definitely are! That means there is definite space in the format for a Reanimator style deck. Reanimator is often defined as a graveyard combo deck that wants to pitch large creatures to the graveyard and then reanimate them into play for cheap.

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This deck leans on cards that filter things to the graveyard, from the classic Faithless Looting to cards like Commune with the Gods and Grisly Salvage. Unlike Reanimator decks in most other formats though, many of the Reanimation targets in Pauper are strictly big beaters so they often need a little help in addition to just being big threats to really win the game. This is where cards like Dragon Breath and Dragon Fangs come into the picture. Introduced in the Scourge expansion, this cycle of Auras functions from the graveyard to enter play enchanting a creature when a creature with mana value 6 or more enters the battlefield. As all of the big creatures you want to reanimate meet this requirement, it's very easy to get a few copies of these enchantments into the graveyard so they attach to your threat. With Dragon Breath especially the biggest aspect of this is gaining haste. Having a hasted threat like Ulamog's Crusher can very quickly seal the fate of most games for sure.

The downside of this deck is not just mulligans, but also the fact that graveyard hate exists. The deck does attempt to somewhat sidestep most graveyard hate by having Delve creatures to turn cards that are generally unattractive to hit with graveyard removal into creatures, but more often than not graveyard interaction like Faerie Macabre, Tormod's Crypt, and Nihil Spellbomb can really ruin this deck's day. Exhume at least doesn't target the creature you want to return, but if you have Auras in the graveyard, your opponent can hit those with a card like Macabre and then follow up with a piece of removal on your threat.

Mainly this deck is about picking and choosing your spots to beat this kind of interaction post board (as more often than not Game 1 they will not have this kind of interaction) or just simply hope that they forgot to pack that kind of interaction.

Pauper Challenge 5/6

The first Challenge event of the weekend was the Saturday event. This event had 57 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Castle of Commons Discord.

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here.

Let's take a look at the  Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Orzhov Ephemerate 1st immvp
Bogles 2nd LasVegasChaos
Golgari Gardens 3rd IAB_MaGiC
Ephemerate Tron 4th RClin21
Serpentine Curve 5th renaar
Mono Blue Faeries 6th Oceansoul92
Dimir Terror 7th cicciogire
Affinity 8th LuffyDoChapeuDePalha

Definitely an interesting Top 8 overall here. Lot of variety in decks for sure. At the end of the event it was Orzhov Ephemerate that won!

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This deck has a lot of interesting things it can do. Plenty of solid ETB abilities that it can abuse with Ephemerate for sure. It's certainly a super fun fair deck in the format.

In Second Place we've got Bogles.

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I keep seeing this deck have a lot of consistent results, and I think it is quite good right now for sure. It has a lot of powerful plays and outpaces a good number of decks in the format right now that are popular.

Further down the Top 8 we have a Mono Blue Serpentine Curve based deck.

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This deck is very much a Mono Blue tempo style deck that wants to deploy big threats like Tolarian Terror and evasive cards like Delver of Secrets. Furthermore, Serpentine Curve often creates a huge Fractal token to close the game out with because it counts both cards in exile and in the graveyard.

At the bottom of the Top 8 we've got Affinity.

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Gearseeker Serpent here and zero Frogmite is pretty interesting for sure. I also can appreciate the fact that this deck is playing four Nihil Spellbomb. Pretty nice effect to have for sure.

Pauper Challenge 5/7

The second Challenge event of the weekend was the Sunday event. This event had 69 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Castle of Commons Discord.

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Golgari Gardens 1st Leobertucci
Mono White Heroic 2nd Terminus0
Familiars 3rd Jace_MTG
Mono White Aggro 4th jwaves
Affinity 5th LuffyDoChapeuDePalha
Kuldotha Burn 6th Beicodegeia
Burn 7th MichaelArmando
Burn 8th djbmppwns

Lot of Burn at the bottom here, but other than a fairly interesting Top 8 overall. At the end of the event it was Golgari Gardens that won.

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This deck is rather interesting. It utilizes some token creation (in cards like Khalni Garden) to make tokens for Deadly Dispute and Reckoner's Bargain to sacrifice, but plays very much like a midrange Rock/Jund style deck with removal and threats. Very cool for sure.

In Second Place we've got Mono White Heroic.

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This deck is super cool. It has a lot of ways to buff its creatures much like Bogles does, but it also has ways to protect its creatures that in turn also buff its creatures because of the Heroic ability. It can also force poor blocking on the opponent's part with Deftblade Elite.

Also in this Top 8 we had Familiars.

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This deck continues to really play around with different space of new cards, with this build landing on two copies of Meeting of Minds. Definitely a super fun deck to be on right now.

As noted we had a good amount of Burn in the Top 8. Let's look at the highest placing one.

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This version of the deck is all in on both Resolve and Impulse with also having Kuldotha Rebirth. Rebirth works really well with cards like Goblin Bushwhacker as the tokens made by Rebirth can be pumped to swing in for lethal on turns. Seems quite strong for sure.

Around the Web

  • Kalikaiz has a video on Pauper Poison Storm. Check it out here.
  • Alex Ullman has an article on the new Ring Mechanic from Lord of the Rings and what effect that could have on Pauper. Check it out here.

The Spice Corner

You can find this past week's 5-0 deck lists over here.

Familiars with Utopia Sprawl and Abundant Growth is pretty neat.

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for continuing to support the column and join us next week as we continue our journey into Pauper!

As always you can reach me at all my associated links via my Link Tree! In addition I'm always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the MTGPauper Discord Server.

Until next time!



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