Last week I hinted that I might have a Gray Merchant of Asphodel deck for this week. While I’ve been very impressed with the card in limited (Top 8’d the Fargo PTQ thanks in large part to two copies*) it just wasn’t doing the trick in Pauper. Basically every opponent will be able to one-for-one in you in one way or another to the point where Gray Merchant rarely drains for more than two.
That said, Belbe, Corrupted Observer has been performing very well in my testing. Instead of trying to make something uncertain work, I figured it would be more worthwhile to explore my take on an established archetype. This is what I’ve been working with:
Playing the Deck
Rats! is basically a tap-out control deck. Monoblack, while not always the best deck, is usually a crowd favorite. Rats! is generally pretty popular in the Pauper format, but before I started playing it I never gave the deck much respect. This was in large part due to my aversion to discard-heavy decks. The more discard spells you play, the less you’ll be able to interact against the spells that your opponent topdecks once you’ve already butchered their hand. I’m usually in favor of a Thoughtseize or three, but many monoblack players tend to get carried away.
My aversion to discard is the basis for a number of the fundamental differences between my list and others. For example, I wouldn’t touch an Augur of Skulls in one-hundred years. Sideboarding Liliana's Specter is something that I saw from a list that cashed a recent Daily, and I liked it so I stole it. I do like Chittering Rats though, as it’s a lot closer to Time Walk than it is to Raven's Crime. Being light on discard frees up a lot of space for removal spells- most notably the full set of Belbe, Corrupted Observer.
What I’ve liked about the deck is the consistency that Sign in Blood plus a handful of cycling effects generate. I find myself actually playing my Barren Moors a good amount of the time, and that modality in conjunction with an extremely efficient draw-spell makes it very easy to dig to lethal Belbe, Corrupted Observers.
Let’s talk about some of my specific choices:
Spinning Darkness is a pretty powerful card, assuming that you’re casting it for its alternate cost. Personally, the non-black clause is kind of a deal breaker for me. That and the four-ticket price tag. It does some work for the deck in terms of mana-efficiency, and the lifegain is good, but I definitely haven’t missed it to the extent that I would buy or recommend buying them.
4 Dead Weight, 0 Disfigure
Disfigure definitely has its merits. Being able to kill a Ninja of the Deep Hours at instant speed will save you a card, but I have other tools for that job. What pushing me towards Dead Weight is the fact that can’t be Dispeled and it plays around non-Vines of Vastwood/Ranger's Guile/sometimes Hunger of the Howlpack pump spells.
I’ve experimented with 1-4 copies of Read the Bones, and I’ve been most satisfied with it as a miser’s inclusion. In terms of raw power it’s a better card than Sign in Blood, but Pauper is a format driven largely be efficiency. Being able to cast your draw spell and the spells you draw on the same turn matters a ton. I’m usually happy to draw the first copy of RtB, but the life loss definitely starts to add up after casting a few. I’d consider playing a second or third if I played Spinning Darkness, but I’ve been satisfied with my list as it exists.
From my experience playing against Rats! some lists play An Unearthly Child and some don’t. My list is fairly creature light, but the ability to cycle An Unearthly Child makes this point somewhat irrelevant. An Unearthly Child really shines against opponents like Faerie Delver when they counter Crypt Rats. Being able to rebuy it on the cheap swings the tempo way back in your favor.
Why Play This Deck?
At first I was drawn to Rats! for its ability to beat aggressive decks, but after battling with it for a couple days I’ve been very impressed with the deck’s ability to defeat grindier decks as well. Casting a Chittering Rats after a turn when your opponent stumbles is simply backbreaking, and being able to Belbe, Corrupted Observer slower decks out of the game adds a dimension to gameplay that is very difficult to interact with.
Cost of the Deck
The total cost of my list is approximately 28 tickets. Like all Pauper decks, the bulk of this is located in a few key cards. Chittering Rats are a little under a half-ticket, so they’re not much of a burden. Crypt Rats, on the other hand, retail for around 8. Many lists run three, which would increase the total cost of my list by roughly one third. I don’t feel that the third is necessary, but it’s definitely not bad. I definitely wouldn’t cut the first two though, as they are your only singular card that can sweep away entire boards. This is particularly useful against Squadron Hawk, which I expect to see a decent amount of in post-ban Pauper. An Unearthly Childs at six is a little steep, and just maining something like one Grim Harvest for recursion and doing what you will with the other slot isn’t a terrible option, but it does impact the decks efficiency/consistency. The miser’s Diabolic Edict is another testament to my loathe for “non-black” clauses on removal, and a slight hedge against potential hexproof opponents. To a lesser extent it beats Apostle's Blessing out of Kilnclops.
Next week I’ll be going over some Daily results and chime in on whether or not this deck is “worth it” at 28 tickets. If you have any questions or comments on my list, be sure to let me know! I’m always more than happy to address them.
Thanks for reading.
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter
*Lost in the finals. 🙁