Gushgate: a Pauper war

da | Gen 6, 2019 | Pietro Bragioto

You can find the original italian version here


In order to study a problem, I usually start making a list of pros and cons and, after that, I try to ponder them to put the right spin on my reasoning.

  • 0 Cost

    Gush is one of the few Pauper free spell with all the collateral benefits: increasing storm counts, growing graveyards; the first is useful for combo decks, UR Kiln in primis, the second is appreciated by delve archetypes like UB Angler Delver.

  • +3 Cards in hand:

    this bonus can be underrated by many but it is essential for UW Tribe players, it sinergyzes well with Foil too, allowing you to pay its alternative cost with little effort.

  • Pseudo-Ramp:

    Gush works as temporary ramp when you have no landrop of the turn: it allows me to have 4 mana with only 3 lands giving a little mana boost for the current turn and solving lot mana-restriction problems typical of low land count decks.
    For example, on his 4th turn UR Delver can Gush with 2 U mana in pool, can play Islands and play Augur of Bolas staying open for Spellstutter Spirite; UW Tireless Tribe with Gush has access to the “extra” mana to execute the combo with the “extra” protection needed, the same consideration is valid for UR Kiln Fiend.

  • 2×1:

    Pauper, as many know, leverage 2 for 1 a lot, one reason is that you have no bomb rares that steal or resolve the match on their own (the notable exeption is monarch mechanic with an appropriate setup). Also Gush gives you the strongest generic 2×1: drawing 2 cards that is not like forcing my opponent to discard 2 cards or playing a little body and drawing a card like Phyrexian Rager;


  • Handsize:
    if you have more that 7 cards at the end of your turn, you have to discard and gush is suddenly not good. Luckily, the bonus cards in hand are 2 if you replay the Island as landrop of the turn and Gush is at its best in delver decks that typically don’t struggle to empy their hand faster than normal.

    To sum up, handsize is the last of your problems when playing delver decks, it remembers you just not to playing Gush too aggresively and not to be too reckless chaining two Gushes in two sequential turn.

  • 2 lands timeskip

    On the one hands Gush has a pseudo ramp effect on the actual turn, on the other hand it leaves behind 2 landrop: you are victim of a timeskip and you will play with less mana than normal on the future turns.
    Gush is not an entirely free divination, it also has downsides: this defect can be mitigated by playing cheap spell as delver decks do but, still, you can’t Gush on your 4th turn in a 2 colors deck having counterspell up too.

This is the main defect why you can’t chain two Gush too early or why it’s too risky sometimes playing multiple Gushes in adjacent turns.

  • Manabase Restrictions:

    if you are playing Gush, you can’t play any manabase you want: you shouldn’t play Bounceland and Lifelands and this is an important restriction, especially for lifelands, cause it means you don’t have access to 2 colors with one lands.

    This last limitation concerns particulary Counterspell: you can’t play cantrip and stay open for it on your 3rd turn and usually you can’t stay open for it after a Gush in early stages.
    Other important examples: you can’t cast Tireless Tribe and leave a White protection spell like Ajani’s Presence on the same turn, you can’t play Gurmag Angler and leave up your removal cause tribe and ub angler, like many other bicolors decks, want to have access to only one source of the secondary color for the most part of games (Snuff Out, being a free spell, is an important exception).

    Playing with poorman fecthes (Terramorphic Expances and Evolving Wilds) and with Ash Barrens has its upsides: they grow your graveyard and shuffle effect works well with cantrips like Brainstorm or Ponder.

Special Watched

Let’s talk about Gush archetypes because cards don’t get banned only for their own power level, they get banned also because they get played in archetypes that dominates their formats warping badly the metagame.

It makes no sense to compare the use of the card in other formats with something like this:
“You can’t play a card banned in Legacy in a format of commons”

“Man, it’s restricted in Vintage, no way you can play the set”

The same reasoning is true for cantrips: I don’t care if you can’t play Ponder or Preordain in your Modern format, Modern has almost nothing in common with Pauper.

Setting matters: in our format cantrip and Gush draw commons, the don’t draw bomb-rares or gamewinner sideboard cards, this is not the whole question but it’s certanly an important point.

Pauper competitive archetypes with Gush are 4:

  • UR/Mono U Delver,

  • UR Kiln Fiend;

  • UB AnglerDelver;

  • UW Tribe.

Lot of people don’t complain about combo decks like Tribe or Kiln, those are widely kept in check with generic removal, counters and dedicated sideboard cards like Hydroblast, Circle of Protection: Red or Krak-Clan Shaman.

Community complains, in the last years, were about UR Delver power leve but, after Foil downgarde in UMA, they have a new target: UB Angler Delver with some apocalyptic comments:
“It’s clear that UB is the best deck”
“It maks no sense to me playing something else, I just have to set my deck for the mirror”
“Foil makes Gush ban inevitable”

I have the impression that someone lost a sense of proportion: it seems strange that a non-combo deck goes from irrelevant to competitive tournament to oppressive Tier 0, only for the downgrade of Foil

I want to make some considerations about Pauper Challenge beacuse, in my opinion, they are wrongly considered the mirror of pauper competitive metagame:

  • regional tournament, not mondial: how many european people can gaming during the night between Sunday and Monday? For schedule inaccessibility, challenges are played by american players or european people that don’t work on Monday morning. Also it seems that italian big tournament have little consideration internationaly: it’s a good point that italian tounament aren’t periodic like challenges but Paupergeddons (3 each year) have more than 180 players and other tournament like December Pauperwar had 7 rounds, the same number of a challenge.

    Here it is a little trivia for you: there were no UB Angler Delvers in PauperWar top 8.

  • average level is embarassing: time ago I considered Pauper Challenge like the Holy Grail that defines format and gives interesting ideas, all changed when I watched Challenge streaming: from missplays to blunders every match, by some challenge winners too.

    Nothing but heartache and disappointment, look for yourself!

Talking about the “Tier 0”: the archetype comes from the old version of UB Angler Delver that iron out removal and hard counters, playing no Deprive and less copies of Counterspell, in order to play Gush, the full set of Daze and 3 Foil.

The strategy moves form a midrage with a tempo-deck mask to something that resemble Legacy delver style, we stick with the plan of protecting the queen, Lady Gurmag, hoping in our Gush for eventual value games.

Immediately after Foil downgrade, I was not very confident in playing UB, so I started testing hard the new take on the archetypes; after lot of tests I have some considerations about the single card choice:

  • Daze: this is simply huge now! After UR Delver ascends with the downgrade of Augur of Bolas, there were less and less Mono U with Daze around cause the old monocolored deck don’t have a great MU vs Boros and Winter Delver. In this long perdiod, people don’t face Daze too much anymore, so now they didn’t expect to face it and they run into it more then they should: with Ub spiking in popularity, they will use to play around Daze more and more, but it can have a great surprise factor for now.

    In our skilled Challenges, I saw a Boros Monarch, with no pression on board from the opponent, playing both its Prophetic Prisms into Daze, even thought he can play around it being flodded with bounceland and basics… at the end, he died after had cast no value Kor Skifishers and Glint Hawks without finding a convincing answer to the big frog.

    Talking more seriously, Daze fits perfect in the archetype giving you a huge tempo advantage over your opponents, synergizing well with Foil; post side it will be the first cut in lot of Mus but in g1 it’s the more flexible and tempo answer you can have access to.

  • Counterspell isn’t that effective: the namesake of counters doesn’t impress me in this shell cause the manabase and teh playstyle aren’t optimal for it: it works more as a defender of our position when we are ahead than as a builder of our advantage. Let’s be clear: lots of our early turns are Cantrips and/or Removals and/or Menaces and/or Dazes, we can’t afford to have 2 specific blue mana open in a passive way if we don’t have a Delver or a Gurmag Angler to protect: we have to stick threats or cantripping for them, we are not gonna win too many matches staying back and trading resources only.

    Considering the fact that our islands will often come back in our hands for Gush and Daze, counterspell is not that easy to cast: for this reasons, playing 4 in this particular UB take is wrong or at least too clunky. You usually don’t cut counterspells in any non-tron blue deck, but this is the exeption: 2 off is the correct numer, 3 is ok but a little greedy.

  • Gurmag Angler is a real deal: it’s an effective win condition, protect the queen and she will lead you to victory, a 5/5 is incredibly difficult to hold back in Pauper, expecially ith counter backup. Angler has the same short time advantage than Daze, people don’t have too many efficent removal vs the big frog cause there weren’t too many Gurmags in top 8 lately, they haven’t set against it yet but I’m sure that they will adapt to the monster very soon.
    It has to be said, this archetype is no Turbo-angler that has access to cards such as Thought Scour and Mental Note, it’s less thematic but with free spells and cheap cantrips, it’s not difficult to cast an Angler on your 3
    rd or 4th turn.

  • Gush is the only card, with Angler, you have to see in almost every game in order to win: there is a huge difference between game where you find them and others games.

    I’m aware that putting the 4th Gush is not a balanced choiche and it may seems a little greedy and clunky, it’s true in fact but it’s a great metacall against mirrorsand Midrange decks, aggro is not well represented in competitive meta lately too. Most times Foil alternative cost is too onerous to pay without Gush; honestly speaking Foil is such a bad card on its own but it fits well in the deck: it protects well the queen in key turns, it discard bad cards for example Dazes in the late game or extra removal vs Tron, it allows us tapping out to develop our own game with backup plan.

  • Snuff Out: it’s the embodiment of the tempo concept, 4 life loss can sound too much but menaging every nonblack threat paying no mana is huge. It’s also a card, like Daze, that instills fears in our opponend mind: sometime they just play too conservative around theese free spell not punishing us in week spots, for example they can decline to ninjutsu Ninja of the Deep Hours prefering another play and we are not punished for having a removal-less hand gaining important time.

  • Echoing Decay: it may seems a fancy removal less efficent than Disfigure, Doom Blade and Ghastly Demise but it covers one of our week spot whis is Tokens. This card single-handedly upset Boros Bully MU that is very popular right now, putting up great performace online. Finally, it’s a nice cards to have in grindy Mu full of 4x, like UR Delver and Boros Monarch, it turns into a 2×1 more often than you might think.

UB Angler Delver is not the much lauded Tier 0, there are some Mu that are negative or potentially dangerous if they set against us:

  • Boros Monarch can become a problem: 3 or 4 Journey to Nowhere and 2 Guardian of the Guilpact with lot of Pyroblast and Relic of Progenitus post SB , this type of build is no joke to face, expecially when they started to play more carefully around Daze, our 6 hard counters could not be enough sometimes. Luckily, Boros Monarch is very difficul to set versus both UB and Boros Bully: Hard removal or Electrickery, Battle screech or Guardian of the Guildpact?

  • Dinrova Tron: Ub has no good answer MD to Dirova Horror and Tron isn’t as kind as midrange deck giving us time to stick our threats, in Mid game Tron starts to run away with the victory and when we enters in late game it surclasses almost every other deck in the format. Stock Dinrova lists usually has no answers to an early aggression, they usually don’t play Bolt or Flame Slash: we cast an early Delver of Secrets or Gurmag Angler hoping in them but Fire/Ice downgrade is a clear answer to Delver and Capsize blanks the zombie fish. They have few early answers but we can’t always have nut starts, the fact is that if they go big on mana before we go big on battlefield, we are in trouble.

  • Aura: this UB version has no edicts so we can’t remove a gigantic hexproof creature from the battlefield, we can only counters problematic auras: Ethereal Armor is the beginning of the end, Armadillo Cloak and Ancestral Mask are the nails in the coffin. Daze i certainly huge and Aura players usually have bad builds with bad side in, so the Mu can appear even at first sight, I believed it too. After I started testing against a decent Aura player with great build and nice side in, he played around Daze when he could afford to and I got literally dismantled almost every match.

  • Rakdos Monarch / UB Monarch or Control / MBC: all decks with a consistent number of answers to Gurmag and lots of 2×1, our hopes are leveraging on their stumbles with strongs start or winning late game with gush and counters but this last hope is very optimistic. Luckily, this deck aren’t putting strongs number on competitive metagame, I usually don’t see good builds around but I expect a strong build and a dedicated pilot can do very well.

I wish to point out an important fact: UB have only 8 threats to win the game and 4 of them are under every pseudo-removal in the game, if the meta suit their answers, UB will not be so strong right now. Ub had a stompy entrance in the format but I think that its flames will be partially extinguished as the format adapts to the new kid on the block.

We are not talking about a strong deck like Boros Monarch that has no clear week side but Tron and that is difficult to attack: UB Angler Delver is far more vulnerable and soft to adjustments.

For example UR Delver is considered an underdog, I don’t think this claim is totally true from my tests but I know that UR Delver can be tunned a little with something like Curse of Chains or Harvest Pyre SB or even MD cause both are nice one off and they tune the deck in weak MU like Affinity off.
With this adaptations Winter Delver becomes little clunkier but Angler is the only way it can lose from UB, at least pre SB where the problem is cause post side UR has access too heavy hitter like Pyroblast and Relic of Progenitus.

A final important consideration is that UB has no playmaker side-in like Pyroblast, Gorilla Shaman, Circle of Protections or Krark-Clan Shaman, UB has fine-tuning side in not having access to lot of heavy impact cards or hate: this is not necessarily evil, bur UB has no access to free win or strong hate card.
Usually after side, things get worse for UB in all non-linear MUs cause other deck put in relatively stronger cards.

Post-apocalyptic Vision

What if Gush is banned and Wizzard accomodates community whinings? In my honest opinion, we will get a post-apocalyptic Pauper with bad playability; let’s start with the easy part: what decks will die if ban hammer hits Gush?

  • UR Kiln and UW Tribe are gone: they can’t face Midrange or Control anymore with no cheap card adavantage, combo deck would cease to exist and this would be a huge loss for the metagame of any healthy format expecially if this combo deck aren’t dominating the scene;

  • Delver.deck would be pushed out from competitive meta, they will be out of gas too soon against Midrange and Control, they could try to go over the top with Stormbound Geist or Stitched Drake or they could try to replace Gush with Fantom Seer but I can’t see how theese solutions could take back the deck on top;

Tron would be in paradise with no Delver or Combo deck around in competitive metagame: he can easily face Aggro, Control and Boros with a clever mix of countermagics and fogs, some strong hates cards vs Affinity and the deed is done.

A boring go big challenge where no one is trying to go under or go tempo against the giant: an all muscle world with no poetry, I don’t want to live in it, honestly.
I love tricky Pauper with free spells and surprising moves, I love having combo and tempo decks in a format: I hope this world don’t get destroyed for whining and useless alarmism.

Happy new year and good Pauper to all!

Stay hungry,
stay Pauper.

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