From a landmark 200 player attendance in a Grand Prix side event, to rampant price spikes and speculation. Patient hoarders are raking in profits, eager Spikes are moving in to claim prizes, and Pauper’s critical reception is glowing. Read on with Sqrawn for a Pauper brew in this exciting time of discovery – the lost city of Orazca has been found and the Pauper format is in the midst of a gold rush!
Secrets of the Golden City is another Ascend card from Rivals of Ixalan. Drawing three cards for three mana is a fabulous rate and a rare feat for a common, well worth the climb to Ascend. A ramp strategy seems a natural course, until you consider the lack of power on high mana cards in Pauper. A rush of card draw into a clog of ramp spells and French vanilla fat isn’t as sweet as reloading on spicy ammunition and tricks.
The biggest bang for your buck requires scouting the right cards and resisting temptation – you can’t simply throw Secrets of the Golden City into a Burn or Delver deck expecting a Treasure Cruise. All those instants and sorceries will simply make casting Secrets of the Golden City a color dense Divination, at which point you may as well just run Divination. Making this great dig for value is going to take some cold hard permanents, and I don’t mean those cheap flimsy artifacts we see getting cranked out for Thoughtcast. We’re going to explore the hardest permanents to remove after lands: Enchantments.
If you can’t meet a threshold like Ascend by rushing ahead, try gumming up the works for your opponents to buy time until you can. Spreading Seas and Rhystic Study can both stall for and help fulfil the Ascend count. The consistency of additional card draw helps make up for those times when you need to make an early cash-in on Secrets of the Golden City. There’s nothing wrong with having Divination for a fail-state – you could be doing a lot worse in format where a Turn 3 evoked Mulldrifter is passable. Sometimes something as simple as Turn 2 Spreading Seas into Turn 3 Divination can get you back in the game after a bad mulligan. Sometimes your Spreading Seas nails the opponent’s only multicolor source for a few turns, long enough for you to pull ahead. The Pauper format is nothing if not a space where the little things can be appreciated, and the color-screwing capability of Spreading Seas is well known even in the Modern format.
Rhystic Study is best known for its stardom in casual multiplayer Commander, and the inflated price tag that comes with it. Rhystic Study goes for as much as $10 USD in paper, which makes grabbing a full playset in Pauper a daunting prospect for what is after all a common card. Thankfully the casual Commander scene is a shallow pool in Magic Online, one that reflects a more realistic price of about 3 tix per Rhystic Study.
Pauper’s deep card pool allows one to dive through Magic’s entire history, and find old Magic gems like Psychic Venom. Psychic Venom has been casually brewed around for over a decade, picking up deck names like Psychic Pauper and Land Venom. It’s clear by this point that my building around Secrets of the Golden City also means building my take on a Land Venom deck.
If you can color-screw an opponent with Spreading Seas, you can push them into using mana sources loaded with the painful Land Venom enchantments. Spreading Seas and Contaminated Ground can even make your enchantments a little harder to remove by messing with opponents’ Green and White mana bonds. Blue magic has limited capability in removing active enchantments while Black and Red spells are woefully incapable.
This core of suffocating land enchantments increases an opponent’s tension under Rhystic Study. As the game plays out, opponents are forced to make concessions between losing life, or slowing down their game plan and letting you draw into more enchantments to pile on the pain. Drawing multiples of these cards after unlocking Secrets of the Golden City gives you a surge of pressure on the opponent and an inevitability to stall for on top of Ascend. Drawing multiples early is great too, for you can stack the land disruption to sour a land to the point of virtual land destruction.
Unlike Contaminated Ground or Spreading Seas, Psychic Venom doesn’t have any utility to lose by doubling up on a land, making it the most complimentary of all the land enchantments; its vanilla damage effect the sweetest spice.
Magic veterans familiar with the humble enchantment will appreciate the potential for even a single Psychic Venom to deal 4 or more damage over a game. They may recall stories by Mark Rosewater about how another very enthusiastic Magic R&D member used a deck of only basic Islands and Psychic Venoms to demonstrate why allowing more than four copies of a card in a deck would be broken. This amusing legend teaches the value of consistency in a deck, and that basic Island is probably overpowered.
Giving your opponents Islands can be powerful too, and Spreading Seas shows how Psychic Venom evolved into Magic’s Modern era. The raw ability adjusted from Blue into Black, its transitionary period captured by Pooling Venom from Future Sight. Meanwhile the concept of land disruption in Psychic Venom saw a more divergent evolution, resulting in Spreading Seas and Contaminated Ground, debuting in the same block. Spreading Seas not only smooths early draws and provides additional disruption, it can echo Psychic Venom’s damage potential by enabling islandwalk.
Late game mana sink Halimar Wavewatch turns from a 4 mana 0/6 wall to a heavy 6/6 game ender, your enchantments punishing opponents who would disrupt the sorcery speed Level up. With the amount of card draw available to the deck, you will likely have a Spreading Seas active by the time you’re ready to attack with a fully leveled Halimar Wavewatch.
Coral Barrier’s supremely evasive token could be likened to a face-pinging Prodigal Sorcerer, meanwhile counting as two permanents toward unlocking Secrets of the Golden City. Coral Barrier marks a time when the landwalk keyword was given its last hurrah before it joined Psychic Venom in retirement.
Flash Pestermite in during your opponent’s upkeep to tap a land with two or more Venoms. Some games will allow for Pestermite to net 6-8 damage after its first attack – itself an evasive 2 power nuisance. Bounce spells like Curfew make opponents go through the pain of casting their creature spells all over again, provide extra stalling, and allow you to squeeze out extra Pestermite triggers or Coral Barrier Squid tokens. The Great Pauper Gold Rush breathes new life into Magic’s old spaces.
Gigadrowse drifts between a Fog, Time Warp, and in this strategy even Kaervek’s Torch. Snap can open devastating early tempo plays in combination with Spreading Seas or Contaminated Ground. Against Elf decks with their single digit land counts, a lucky start can mean a free win. Turn 2 Snap on their Turn 1 Elvish Mystic, immediately followed by Spreading Seas or Contaminated Ground will completely cut them off from Green sources before they even see their second turn! They’ll need one of those few 8 or so Forests left in the entire deck to show up just in time.
Snap’s tempo boost is certainly effective in more ordinary situations, letting you cleanly drop a timely Rhystic Study or 0/6 Halimar Wavewatch into your Ascend count while still interacting with the opponent.
About that Kaervek’s Torch potential for Gigadrowse, here’s a slick combo I came up with: Cast Gigadrowse targeting the two of your opponent’s lands with the most Psychic Venoms or Contaminated Grounds, and replicate to target those very same lands over again. While Gigadrowse copies are on the stack, you can sneak in Pestermite or Snap to untap those lands before the Gigadrowse copies resolve to tap them again! With just one Gigadrowse, one Snap, 6 mana and three Contaminated Ground variants between the two lands (and a creature for Snap to target) you can get a shot in at the opponent for 12 life.
A playset of Contaminated Ground is our only Black magic in the entire 75. Just a touch, enough to add consistency to what would otherwise be a mono Blue Psychic Venom and Spreading Seas plan. Contaminated Ground can fill in for either, and is likely the best to lead in with for getting both pain and disruption going as soon as possible. So important is Contaminated Ground to the deck that no expense is spared in the mana base.
If you already have a playset of Ash Barrens, buying into this deck will set you back around 15 tix online. The whole deck can cost up to around $75 USD in paper, Ash Barrens and Rhystic Study playsets making up near $70 and the rest about $5. Ash Barrens is important for picking up the slack from the costly 8 spaces of Blue+Black taplands and enabling that reliable Turn 2 Contaminated Ground. The taplands allow us to keep the Swamp count minimal, and offset potential Swamp and Ash Barrens clogs by ensuring we’re still able to cast our densest Blue spells, Secrets of the Golden City and Gigadrowse. Once a blue moon Spreading Seas can even turn one of your Swamps or played Ash Barrens into an Island to prepare an extra Gigadrowse copy. After hitting our first Black source, we can cycle away any Ash Barrens for Islands to enjoy a little extra deck thinning whenever tempo allows.
The sideboard features Ice Over to stunt artifact manabases or provide a more permanent solution to stompy creatures over Curfew. Curfew can be maxed out against Bogles or any deck Pestermite and Mind Games can grieve. Memory Lapse and Vapor Snag can join Snap to really put the opponent off tempo or just offer extra interaction against explosive strategies like Kiln Fiend or Inside Out Combo. More Gigadrowse helps against decks going wide or packing counterspells. Decks relying more on damage prevention tricks, resilient blockers or building up +1/+1 counters like Turbo Fog, Tortured Existence or Mono-White Heroic are much more favorable matchups for the build shown.
Land Venom Rush runs into trouble against aggressive Red decks full of haste or burn, able to push through all the pain and disruption to win before they become trapped. Decks based in White or Black magic with steady bursts of life gain or battlefield entrance triggers can trivialize your disruption. Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Seeker of the Way, and Lone Missionary are all bad news for the deck showcased above. Refining the list against these problem matchups might see Coral Barrier, Halimar Wavewatch and Memory Lapse exchanged for Exclude, Spellstutter Sprite and Weatherseed Faeries. The metagame is wide open and decks are always changing places on the totem pole. The Great Pauper Gold Rush is the time for exploring new frontiers. See how high you can score with that Gigadrowse Land Venom combo!