Pauper Dreamcrusher

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Unfortunately, this week's article isn't going to go quite the way I'd wanted. What I'd planned to do was a video walkthrough of Donovan's (d0su) Pauper Child of Alara deck. For some pretty extensive discussion of the deck, check out the MTGSalvation thread. However, because of some technical difficulties, some very persistent telemarketers, and the incredible amount of combo decks on MTGO, I was unable to get a recording with a reasonable game that wasn't multiple hours long.

That said, I did record an introduction to the build of the deck that I first started playing some games on Magic Online with. That build is certainly a few cards off of the version that I'm basically settled on, but it's still a great place to start. There's quite a bit of flexibility within the deck, and there aren't terribly many slots that are set in stone. Pretty much any way that you can think of to build incremental advantages is going to be right at home in this deck. If you're interested in a deck that's looking to grind out small advantages in the super-late game, and end games by hardcasting Rolling Thunder for 20+, then this is probably for you!

For those of you who haven't read about this deck before, the deck typically functions in three distinct phases. The first phase is where you lay low, make land drops, and try to keep a full hand. Feel free to spend removal to keep the rest of the table from getting out of control, but just try to make land drops and stay ahead on cards. The second phase is where you find a way to start grinding out extra cards, like Disturbed Burial plus Krosan Tusker. You want to leave up enough mana to either destroy your Child of Alara, or counter any absurd spells, but you want to be spending most of your mana drawing extra cards and making even more land drops. The last stage is when you finally stop actively wanting to make land drops, and you want to start locking down the game, either with Capsize or some kind of Grim Harvest loop that lets you wrath every turn with Child of Alara. Once you have the game locked down, you'll eventually win with Rolling Thunder, attacking with Grey Ogres, or Child of Alara beat down.

Using my draft commons and some bots, I was able to build the deck for just under 5 tickets; to be honest though, it could be built for much less than that if you wanted to eschew the snow mana base. All the snow mana is good for is enabling Skred, and while Skred is very efficient it's not necessary for the deck to function (as you could replace it with any number of efficient removal spells like Eyeblight's Ending). Beyond that, though, the deck is very affordable, and I've been very happy with it. That said, this is certainly not a very easy deck to play, and I know there were a number of times where I made small mistakes or misclicks and got punished pretty hard for them.

The first thing that you need to be aware of when you're playing this deck, and which cannot be overstated, is that mana is king. You want to make a land drop every turn, for as many turns as possible, and you absolutely do not want to cut any of the lands or cards that help you hit land drops. The deck doesn't really start doing anything until it has 11-14 mana available each turn, and even then it's still very mana hungry. However, not only is the quantity of mana important to the deck, the color is very important as well. The deck is most hungry for Blue and Black sources, so that you can cast Capsize and Disturbed Burial multiple times in a turn. After that, the deck needs Red and Green sources, so that you can cast Child of Alara and Skred or another removal spell in one turn, or so that you can cast multiple ramp spells in a single turn. The least important color in the deck is White, and it's not particularly close. You only need one White source at a time unless you need to start looping the copy of Sun's Bounty in the late game, and by even then, you should be sure to have access to all of your other colors first.

Secondly, your life total and politics are two very important tools for this deck. If any one person decides to kill you, then you're probably going to die, since all of their cards are, on average, going to be much more powerful than yours. You have to leverage politics to keep your life total high, and to stay on the table's good side for as long as possible. Once you have access to enough mana, and have found the appropriate cards, then you are more than capable of playing archenemy, but until then you have to be very careful to be helpful and not make any enemies. In addition, your life becomes much easier when you can encourage other people to use their removal so that you can hold yours for later. You want to play as conservatively as possible in the early and mid game to make sure that nothing gets out of hand, and that you don't get swept off the table.

Thirdly, recognize when you can and can't cast Child of Alara without a removal spell to back it up. If you have the luxury of playing around Swords to Plowshares or Oblation, then there's no reason not to do so. Sometimes you just have to cast Child of Alara and hope for the best, but more often than not you can wait until you can cast it and kill it, which is much safer. Child of Alara is an incredible tool if you manage to get it in play, and can just leave up removal for it. People are loathe to cast permanents into a board with an angry baby on it, and this means you'll get a ton of time to develop your mana base and sculpt your hand.

The fourth tenant of playing this deck is an extension of sorts of the last one: play around everything. All of your cards are individually less powerful than your opponents, and you rely very heavily on the interactions between certain cards in order to be able to keep up with the rest of the table. If you overextend into a Bojuka Bog, you're probably going to lose. If you try to capsize your Mnemonic Wall and removal gets rid of your Wall and fizzles Capsize, you probably lose. Obviously, you can't actually play around absolutely everything, but it's important to recognize the kinds of effects that you should be playing around based on your familiarity with the generals, decks, and players at the table. You also need to be aware of how much your opponents know about how your deck works. If they hold their graveyard hate and exile effects for Izzet Chronarch and Mnemonic Wall, then you're going to have a lot more trouble winning than you might otherwise.

And the last rule about playing the deck: be afraid to win the game. It is almost always correct to stall the game a little longer than it is to make a risky play that might end the game more quickly. I win the vast majority of my games by Capsize locking one player while I beat them down with Child of Alara, and then Rolling Thundering someone else to death. Usually it's correct to wait two or three turns to cast lethal Rolling Thunder with Counterspell back up. This deck does not lack ways to keep the game under control once you've stabilized the board, you're short on ways to get the game under control in the first place, so it's usually not worth giving someone an opening to cast something absurd. The obvious exception to the rule is when you're afraid of someone comboing off, or just killing you with a giant creature or Fireball or some such. However, if you're not fearing imminent death, then there's you'd almost always rather wait.

So now that I've gone into a little bit about how to play the deck, I want to talk a little bit about the weaker slots in the deck, and some cards I'm interested in trying. For reference, here's the decklist I ended up with after playing fifteen or so matches with the deck from the video above:

[deckbox did="a121" size="small" width="567"]

Leonin Squire
Basically a strict upgrade to Sanctum Gargoyle. I suppose that the Gargoyle can get Mycosynth Wellspring and Pilgrim's Eye, but most of the cards I want to get back are 1cc Baubles, and Leonin Squire is infinitely more mana efficient.

Primal Growth/Skulltap
These were both absolutely stellar as efficient ways to sacrifice Child of Alara that contribute positively to the decks end game as well. I tried Vivisection for awhile, but it was just too slow and clunky; nine mana to cast Child of Alara and wrath the board is much, much more than seven and eight.

Sylvok Lifestaff
I'm just trying a few different things in the Sun's Bounty slot to see what works best. I liked Sun's Bounty quite a bit, but I know some people have preferred Overrule, and I'm trying something that's tutorable via Trinket Mage and lets you trade off your utility guys for some amount of value. I'm also considering Wandering Streams for the slot, but that seems much worse than Sun's Bounty.

Wrecking Ball
I have a love-hate relationship with this card. On the one hand, it's so much less efficient than the other removal spells that the deck is running. On the other hand, it's basically the deck's only way to deal with problematic non-basic lands. The prevalence of powerful non-basics has become more and more pronounced with the printing of Primeval Titan, and so it's a problem I don't think can be ignored, but I wish there were a better way to deal with it.

Dimir Infiltrator
This has been absolutely stellar in the game I've played with it. It's really powerful to be able to transmute this guy for Disturbed Burial, and then have access to every card with converted mana cost two in your deck for the rest of the game. Most of your best cards cost two, or can be found by some kind of transmute chain without too much trouble.

These two cards weren't in the deck I started playing initially, but were quickly added. You have a ton of shuffle effects, want to find specific combinations of cards, and don't actually need straight up card drawing like Compulsive Research. If you add too many card draw spells, you'll frequently find yourself discarding, which, while not a problem, isn't really good either. I'd rather play a more efficient spell that finds me the one card I need than a bunch of cards that don't matter.

To be perfectly honest, there aren't too many things that I'd change about the deck as it was first shown to me. The deck runs on engines that are very slow, but powerful and hard to disrupt. There's a ton of redundancy, and the end game is very powerful. If you like challenging yourself to play more tightly, and to play around more things, this is a very good deck for that. All in all, I had a ton of fun playing the deck, and would definitely recommend something similar to someone who wants to play a powerful five-color deck on a budget.

Let me know what you think of this kind of approach to these articles. What'd you think of the MTGO video? I'd be glad to try to do more budget/pauper videos on MTGO in the future if there's enough interest! As always, feel free to leave comments and ideas! I've got some material ready for the next few weeks, but I'm always looking for more cool decks to mess around with!

@cag5383 on Twitter

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