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Playing Tempo: Hacking Into Pauper Faeries

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When my local game store announced they were starting monthly Pauper events, I quickly dove into metagame reports and my commons box to figure out what I wanted to play. No other deck in the format appealed to me quite as much as Dimir Faeries. Tempo has long been my favorite archetype in any format, and Faeries has traditionally been one of the best decks of the archetype, if not the best deck in various formats over the years.

From dominating its era of Standard to being a mainstay of the old Extended format, Faeries has made a name for itself. Even without signature rare cards like Bitterblossom and Mutavault allowed in the mix, Faeries is still a heavy hitter in Pauper thanks to its workhorse:

The power of Spellstutter Sprite is its versatility. A cheap counterspell, an evasive threat, or a surprise blocker, Spellstutter can shape or turn the tide of any game. The one-drop Faerie Seer teams up well with Spellstutter, allowing it to level up what it can counter. Seer also sets up your draws and provides an early clock. While these are the two cards giving the deck its name, the rest of the creatures typically found in the deck are notable partly because they aren't Faeries.

Non-Faerie Creatures in Dimir Faeries

The Faeries list typically plays around 18 creatures. In addition to Sprites and Seers, that includes:

  • 3 Ninja of the Deep Hours
  • 2-3 Thorn of the Black Rose
  • 2 Gurmag Angler
  • 4 Augur of Bolas

Ninja of the Deep Hours: Early Clock and Card Advantage

Ninja of the Deep Hours plays great with a team of faeries. It represents a source of card advantage and a better clock than either Spellstutter or Seer. Returning either of those cards to hand via ninjutsu, and allowing them to be played again, makes their value go that much further.

Faeries is a mana-hungry deck. It doesn't just want to play threats on its own turn. It also wants to hold up mana to react with countermagic and removal spells on its opponent's turn. The weakness of Ninja is when it gets stranded in your hand. Casting it for its full cost, and not its ninjutsu cost, runs cross-purpose to what the deck is trying to accomplish.

Thorn of the Black Rose: Mid- to Late-Game Card Advantage

Where Ninja always feels bad to cast for four mana, sinking that amount into Thorn of the Black Rose has an opposite effect.

Thorn, like the Ninja, is a repeated source of card advantage, if you're The Monarch. Where you want to be ninjutsu-ing in your Ninjas in the early game, Thorn ideally comes down in the mid- to late-game, when you've run your opponent low on cards in hand that could potentially answer it. It also blocks very well on the ground, allowing you to hold down the fort while your faeries attack in the air.

Gurmag Angler: The Finisher

With all the cheap creatures and interaction in the faeries deck, the graveyard gets filled quickly. And such a stocked graveyard in turn enables cheap Gurmag Anglers. The dream is to back the big fish with countermagic until it's able to enter the red zone. It's not hard to close out a game with Gurmag once ahead.

Augur of Bolas: The Odd One Out

A non-faerie that doesn't attack well feels like a weird include for this deck. Add that it can miss on netting a card some percentage of the time, and I'm not a huge fan. But is there something better? To me, one of the strengths of the Faeries deck is playing the tempo strategy. If we lean into that, a card I've had great success with in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Limited quickly springs to mind:

Moon-Circuit Hacker plays well into the Faeries tempo plan. It ninjutsus for only one mana, letting pilots connect on turn two and immediately replay their one-drop post-combat. In later turns, Hacker can be cheated in while sparing precious interaction mana for the opponent's next turn. Its hardcast mana value of two also makes it less likely to get stuck in hand the way Ninja of the Deep Hours can in lieu of an attacker.

Incorporating Moon-Circuit Hacker into Faeries

If we're going to play Moon-Circuit Hacker alongside Deep Hours, it means we're planning on ninjutsu-ing as early as possible. It feels natural to add more one-drops to the deck and ensure we're able to enact our game plan. With that in mind, I included a full four Faerie Seers in my list, as well as another one-drop that supports the strategy:

Assuming it doesn't immediately die to removal, Changeling Outcast being an unblockable creature guarantees getting through to activate our ninjas on turn two. It also has added value in stealthily being a faerie, improving our Spellstutter Sprites. This is the list I played at my local game store's Monthly Pauper event:

What Went Right

Going for a more tempo-oriented approach led to some very explosive draws. Hacker plus one-drop in the opening forced opponents into interacting early lest I get ahead on cards. Being able to cast Hacker for two in a pinch was also good.

What Went Wrong

Out of a field of 22 players, I scraped together a 3-2 record. My last round opponent generously conceded game three in the face of my board position when we went to time. Games where I didn't draw or play my early-game threats on time were uphill battles. That's certainly one of the advantages of Augur over Hacker. Augur can come down in the mid to late game and still try to help you dig for answers or card selection spells. Hacker is a little less exciting played to an empty board when you and the opponent are in topdeck mode.

Playing extra x/1's also made the deck soft to Electrickery and Suffocating Fumes. It was important to hold up countermagic to hedge against those or risk getting blown out. Makeshift Munitions from the Affinity and Boros decks was another must-counter that could not be interacted with once it resolved.

The biggest mistakes in this build felt like the absence of Echoing Decay and other interaction to generate value. Pauper is a very value-oriented format. Every card needs to either generate card advantage or add some other incremental value to the board (treasure, clues, etc.). The lack of Decay in the 75, or Echoing Truth and Reaping the Graves in the sideboard, made it difficult to fight the value plays other decks brought to the table.

Changes Going Forward

I want to continue experimenting with this list for a little longer before reverting to the stock build. I definitely need Decay and the other cards mentioned above somewhere in the list. Six Ninjas feel like a good number, but I might opt for a four-two split favoring Hacker over Deep Hours. As I explained, the drawbacks of Hacker are very real. Still, there are fewer chances of it getting stuck in your hand, and it contributes to some of the best openings the deck can produce, so it feels worth the risk.

I had Sea Sprites in my sideboard for the red matchups, but they proved more cute than practical. Those will likely get cut for Reaping and Truth. I've seen a few lists with Okiba-Gang Shinobi in the sideboard and might try one of those as well.

Pauper Is Great Right Now

If you enjoy competitive constructed Magic, I think Pauper is the best constructed format to play right now. Post-bans, there are a number of viable decks, and a ton of interaction available, making every game exciting. The gameplay feels like the best parts of Vintage, Legacy, and Modern, without the price tags involved in those formats.

What do you think? Are you enjoying Pauper? What changes would you make to this list to keep playing ninjas? I would love to hear from fellow Pauper fans in the comments or on Twitter.

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