In Pauper, Monowhite is Fit For a King

Written by Jamie Donovan on . Posted in Casual Magic

In Pauper, Monowhite is Fit For a King

Jamie Donovan

Jamie picked up Magic just as the Eldrazi were beginning to Rise back in 2010. Since then his thirst for the game has been unquenchable and he rarely passes up an opportunity to play. Pauper is the format of choice these days, but he also enjoys nothing more than a draft or two. Or six. He lives in the UK and often has seven cards in one hand and a cup of Earl Grey in the other.
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss other great casual content on Legit MTG like our M13 Commander and M13 Cube reviews. We also took a look at the new cards in the MTGO Cube, which will be featured in the Magic Players Championship in August.

Currently one of the best decks in Pauper, the commons-only format found on Magic Online, monowhite aggro has been putting up consistent 4-0 and 3-1 results as an established archetype. Like most of the format’s decks, monowhite is aggro-geared. What sets it apart from the rest of the field is its resilience and decent late-game paired with a flexible approach that gives it an advantage over other creature-based strategies. Let’s start with the standard list:

The first thing you might notice is the curve is quite low, with only one card that costs more than three mana — Guardian of the Guildpact. This allows you to curve out with a steady stream of spells, keeping maximum pressure up in the crucial early stages of the game. This also means we don’t run that many lands, so you always need to be cautious about adding in anything more at four or above.

Creatures

Benevolent Bodyguard: I have a love/hate relationship with this card, finding it doesn’t do enough in many matchups and can be completely dead in others. But it does have the ability to swing things in your favor or force your opponent into bad plays.  People can delay killing this, which makes their removal unusable for a decent period of the game and provides time to develop your board and get in damage. This is more of a sideboard option though, and I am leaning toward something like Standard Bearer or Mana Tithe in the maindeck.

Gideon’s Lawkeeper: This has the ability to make a big impact. The Lawkeeper is mostly used for tapping down blockers to force through damage but it can fill another important role  — tapping down the biggest threat on the board. It may sound obvious, but decks like Cloudpost run low on threats and this can shut down their plans. Ulamog’s Crusher, it turns out, is not above the law.

Guardian of the Guildpact: The most expensive card in the deck is also one of the most powerful. Protection from monocolored is a huge boon in Pauper because poor manabases mean gold cards are very rarely played. Guardian dodges about 95 percent of the removal that sees play while being pseudo-unblockable. Some decks cannot interact with Guardian as it holds off the opposing board or attacks unimpeded. I’m always tempted to move this to a three- or four-of, but a smooth curve is essential.

Icatian Javelineers: Easily the deck’s best one-drop because of an aggressive metagame. The Javelineers have plenty of targets, making things awkward for an opponent if you play this Turn 1 and pick off their opening play. It can also be reset with Kor Skyfisher or grab a Bonesplitter and go to work. With the format full of one toughness creatures, this should not drop below a four-of unless the meta shifts heavily.

Kor Skyfisher: A 2/3 flyer for two mana is very efficient, and the supposed drawback turns into an advantage for this deck. Being able to attack for two in the air each turn early provides a quick clock, even moreso when Bonesplitter gets involved. Very little can tangle with this and survive — if he can’t attack, he is still a resolute blocker. There’s also value to be gained in the bounce ability by resetting Javelineers, Journey to Nowhere or a flipped Loyal Cathar, all incremental gains that can help turn the tide of a game. It’s a key part to the deck and can be one of the best Turn 2 plays.

Loyal Cathar: One of the more recent introductions to the archetype, Loyal Cathar has proven his worth by being good in almost every matchup. The 2/2 vigilance for two mana is great in the format, allowing you to progress the beatdown plan while leaving someone behind to hold off opposing threats. The fact it comes back as a 2/1 is just gravy, allowing for more aggression and providing value against decks like UR Cloudpost. One of the best cards in the deck, I would never cut Loyal Cathar unless something extraordinary happened in the metagame.

Razor Golem: The first thing to do is ignore the six in the corner and replace it with three. It will always cost three, making Razor Golem a scary threat for opponents to face. Many decks can’t attack through it or block it well, allowing it to dominate the board, especially in multiples. Boosting it with Bonesplitter makes life miserable for most opponents, and some decks don’t have any answer. It’s also surprisingly good against control decks because once it begins to cost zero or one mana, the card is easier to force through conditional counters like Rune Snag or Mana Leak. The card may not look spectacular, but it’s one of the best creatures in the format.

Squadron Hawk: CAW! While there are no Swords of X and Y to make this the menace it was in Standard, the Hawks can still be incredible. Important against control because they give the deck some gas and several cheap threats, they also peck away at lifetotals of decks ill-equipped to deal with multiple fliers. Another vital role is serving as chump blockers, buying time to find an Unmake or Journey to Nowhere or survive a race. I always feel ahead after playing this, and it often seems underrated.

Suture Priest: I’m not sold on the Priest, and it is one of the first cards I would change. While useful in the aggro matchups, it isn’t going to break them wide open. There are some times where this can make a Storm player with Empty the Warrens somewhat unhappy, but it otherwise doesn’t really do much in non-aggro matchups. It’s possible I would cut these to bolster weaker matchups with Mana Tithe or some more copies of Prismatic Strands.

Spells

Bonesplitter: This card is so good. The ability to turn any creature into a big threat, allowing you trade up with otherwise dead creatures (like Icatian Javelineers) or giving you the edge in the race, Bonesplitter is an all-star. The two additional power for two mana is very efficient. Combining this with fliers puts many decks in a race that many cannot hope to win; you can also choose to dominate the ground by slapping it on Razor Golem. The only downside is that people have incidental hate in their sideboards because of Affinity.

Journey to Nowhere: Cheap removal is always welcome, and Journey fits that bill. Two mana takes out almost any creature while getting around most pump spells, which is quite a blessing against Infect. (You should still be wary of Vines of Vastwood and Apostle’s Blessing.) It’s more consistent than Righteous Blow and is solid against decks that are light on threats. One thing to watch for are monoblue decks that run Snap or Vapor Snag. If they have only one target, they can bounce it back to their hand and you’ll end up exiling your own guy. Not fun. It’s a very good card for the deck, helped by the fact that very few decks have enchantment removal.

Prismatic Strands: Strands may seem like too much of a niche card, but it is deceptively good. I’ve grown to respect the power of the card because of its ability to shut out some strategies. Storm has real issues getting around it, although I have seen more decks packing Flaring Pain in their sideboards. It’s one of the easy ways to get ahead against Infect if they go all in with pump spells. It fulfills a great role in a race, too, allowing you to negate a big attack with easy flashback available. Notice how that works so well with Loyal Cathar?

Unmake: As premier removal, Unmake is best saved for the biggest threats and should be held until they crop up or if it could seal the game. The ability to exile for three mana is very powerful in the format. Unconditional removal isn’t exactly in abundance, and a lot of the cards that kill are in black, the least played color. Two copies seems correct. Four might be overkill and could slow the deck down too much, but it’s always something I want.

Sideboard

I’m not sold on the current sideboard, but Crimson Acolyte certainly belongs. UR Cloudpost has kittens over this card, which brings that matchup from good to excellent. Obsidian Acolyte[/cad] is in because UB Cloudpost was making waves, but that seems to be fading rapidly. Once that deck isn’t around, I would probably swap this for [card]Mana Tithe or Standard Bearer. Dust to Dust is almost solely for Affinity, where it can be crushing at the right time (catching them on the play to take out their two lands tends to be a kick to the nuts) but doesn’t find many other uses except the mirror. Holy Light seems too slow against the decks it is supposedly good against; it might still be worth having just for Empty the Warrens Storm, which can be backbreaking. Seraph of Dawn is one I’ve been trying out but I’m still on the fence. Against certain decks it takes over and demands an answer and will quickly turn a race in your favor, but four mana is quite a lot for the deck despite being good out of the sideboard against some of the slower decks.

Matchups

Monoblue

This is the main archenemy in the meta because it can disrupt us while playing out their own fliers, then hold up a wall of countermagic and bounce in the latter stages of the game. It’s not uncommon to have a Turn 1 play eat a Daze, then on their second turn, they Cloud of Faeries with the ability to Counterspell or Mana Leak what comes next. It becomes incredibly difficult to get a foothold in the game, which they can easily loosen with Snap or Vapor Snag for very little cost, giving them a huge advantage in tempo. There are key cards for us in the matchup that can turn the tide. Squadron Hawk provides blockers for the smaller fliers but also creates a board presence or forces the monoblue opponent to use up a lot of their counters allowing you to land bigger things. Guardian of the Guildpact won’t get bounced and it can keep grinding away at the life total, but isn’t at it’s best in the matchup with most attacks coming in the air. It’s worth seeing how the matchup goes if we have Mana Tithe to fight off some of the disruption and also stop their key plays, such as Cloud of Faeries.

Infect/Storm

These decks can provide a Turn 2 win before we can get to our answers, mainly Prismatic Strands. Storm is easily winnable if you can survive long enough to get Strands, with the Grapeshot version being easier to deal with than Empty the Warrens. I don’t like the Infect matchup because they can get the easy kill far too often. Sometimes you keep a hand in the dark against it pre-board and stand no chance; it does get better post-board and once they run out of steam, they’re pretty much done. Standard Bearers fight that deck in particular, turning off a lot of their pump spells.

UR Cloudpost

This common matchup is pretty heavily in our favor. Their plan of trying to kill everything doesn’t work ideally because we can apply a large amount of pressure with low drops and Squadron Hawks, as well as difficult-to-remove threats like Razor Golem and Guardian of the Guildpact. We also have ways to handle the big threats that Cloudpost offers in Ulamog’s Crusher and Capsize. Other strong matchups are any aggro decks that aren’t Infect or monoblue. While it’s never good to generalize, we can easily throw up early blockers to slow down the initial rush before taking over the game as we have a much better lategame than the likes of Goblins or Stompy. Not to mention we have cards like Benevolent Bodyguard and Prismatic Strands in order to set up favorable blocks that can deliver some nasty tempo bodyblows to an opponent.

M13 Additions

Ajani’s Sunstriker needs some testing because although it may not look spectacular, I see potential. While it doesn’t compete with the likes of Kor Skyfisher or Loyal Cathar, the lifelink clause is the draw — the format is very aggressive, so every point of life is vital. There are matchups where this isn’t ideal, but I feel it can pull some weight. For your sideboards, Erase should become an option for one-mana enchantment removal. Another interesting prospect is War Falcon. I’m not sure if it can fit into existing builds because there aren’t enough Soldiers, but I certainly see the opportunity to make a somewhat tribal deck. There are good aggressive creatures in both tribes, but it probably can’t matchup to the current build.

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