Translation by Andrea Falezza
A few days ago, the first post-covid Paupergeddon was held in Rome. I was, indubitably, filled to the brim with trepidation for this event. I had approached Pauper no longer than 2 years ago and I’ve barely had the time to partake in 2 previous Paupergeddons before the lockdowns, with unimpressive results fit for a novice like me that still didn’t fail to make me really appreciate these events. During the months of forced social distancing, I spent a considerable amount of time on MTGO under the alias “Walker735“, fuelling my interest in the format and cultivating my knowledge on the subject. Therefore, I was excited for a chance of proving myself again in a paper event. Furthermore, I couldn’t wait to get to know in person the other members of the “Golden Pigs” team, with whom I’ve happily shared experiences with the format in the past year.
I was set for several weeks on bringing UB Faes, a deck which I believe could fly over the entirety of the rest of the format, Affinity included. However, I had a change of heart a few days before the event, opting to return to my comfort zone by picking Elves. It is the one deck I’ve played more than any other archetype combined. I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to change, but going 0-5 in an MTGO Challenge with UB the week prior definitely influenced me, despite my decent-to-good results in Leagues as well as in Paper Pauper which could have made me ignore that single, terrible result. In the end, I still decided to bring the deck I felt the most comfortable with, a decision that ended up paying off. I must also mention that Hermann J. Consiglio (aka hjc) warned me that I would’ve regretted playing anything other than Elves.
Expecting a meta packed with Affinity and UB Faes, I saw no reason to alter the list I’ve been using on MTGO since the latest ban. I’ll try to avoid making a fully-fledged deck tech, preferring to focus on the more particular aspects of my list.
First and foremost, what isn’t in the deck is just as important as what’s in it. It’s a clean-cut list that skirts around situational cards the likes of Nettle Sentinel , Valakut Invoker and Wildheart Invoker , Ulamog’s Crusher , First day of Class , and so on. There is only a handful of cards that – while not in the list – still hold a place in my heart and have a chance to make an appearance in the future. These cards are mainly Essence Warden , Elvish Guidance (and Arbor Elf ), Deepwood Denizen , and Prohibit .
This said, let’s return to the choices that got me to this list. I’ve been maindecking countermagic in Elves since the latter half of the Mystic Sanctuary meta, which had been so full of 1/1 fliers that both Boros Bully and UR Faes were maindecking copies of Electrickery . Protection spells need to be versatile for them to eat a slot in the main 60s, something that Spidersilk Armor doesn’t quite offer. Countermagic allows not just to protect your pieces from your opponent’s answers but also presents disruption power in the several matchups where Elves takes on a more Control-like approach.
I soon realised that maindeck countermagic is powerful for more reasons than what I initially expected, keeping on playing them even after the ban of Sanctuary. I’ve rarely skipped on them, but I’ve usually simply changed the flavour of countermagic based on the meta. As things stand, I believe that Negate is the right compromise between the versatility of my dear Prohibit (too inefficient against 3-mana board wipes like Fiery Cannonade and Suffocating Fumes ) and the efficiency of the too situational Dispel . I usually run Harsh Sustenance maindeck over Viridian Longbow , but I’ve picked the latter expecting a whole lot of faes.
The downside of this choice is that lacking both Essence Warden and Sustenance could lead to drawing out most of the deck with Distant Melody , just to then lose the game before you’re able to untap. This however seldom happens, thanks to 4 creatures with reach and 2 Negates as well as Ivy Lane Denizen , as killing your opponent is an excellent way to avoid dying yourself. In a combo situation, Denizen can easily turn your mana dorks into monsters, closing the game without the need to wait for the next turn (just remember not to tap out too many creatures for Melody). Ivy Lane Denizen provides the deck with a OTK option, as well as being the only way to dodge a board wipe that can be snatched through Lead the Stampede. At the same time, it remains a more generic payoff when you’re just in need of some action.
In the sideboard, I’ve added a healthy filling of blue blasts, as it’s often necessary to have countermagic up from turn 2, together with a copy of Nomadic Elf to slot in for when we increase the amount of non-green spells. I prefer Harsh Sustenance to Gruesome Fate as removal and lifegain are useful in several matchups, while decks running Prismatic Strands can be bear even without it.
My last choice which may be considered odd is Masked Vandal . I must point out that Masked Vandal is, much like most sideboard cards, a board wipe protection. Therefore, its main task is to exile artifact and enchant-based ones the likes of Viridian Longbow and Pestilence . Sometimes it can be useful against decks that don’t run wipes, but it’s important to avoid siding Vandal in against decks like Affinity and Cascade. Against these archetypes, it’s better to focus on more effectively dealing with their wipers. Instead, it’s better suited against Bogles, against which I find it more palatable than Natural State . It being a creature means that it can be fetched with Lead the Stampede in time of need and its Changeling type means it counts as a Flagbearer. Therefore, if Bogles fields a Standard Bearer and we don’t have an answer to it, we can still target Vandal with our Timeberwatch Elves , which can easily make a huge impact in the game.
Now, let’s see how the Event went!
Turn 1: Slivers
G1: I lose the die roll, but keep my first hand while my opponent mulligans down to 5. He drops T1 Ash Barrens and that’ll be his only action for the entirety of the game. A promising start!
In: 3x Spidersilk Armor
Out: 3x Wellwisher
Please Note: This wouldn’t have been my side-in if I knew what I was facing!
As Ash Barrens is mainly ran by Faes and bounceland decks (e.g. Familiars, Boros, Pestilence…) I assumed that Wellwishers would have been dead weight in Game 2. I pick Spidersilk Armor to replace them, expecting UB Faes to be the most played deck in the event. In hindsight, I believe this to have been a mistake simply since Faes would never drop Ash Barrens as their only land. This said, I’d have never expected Slivers, so it hardly matters.
G2: I keep my first hand again. The matchup is so one-sided that even despite 2 Spidersilk Armor being dead weight in hand I can still bury my opponent under the massive amount of cards drawn with Distant Melody , securing my win.
Turn 2: Walls Combo by Jonathan Quarantiello
Another excellent matchup. I love playing Elves in the quasi-mirror against combo.dek, as the combination of board pressure + interaction gives me a marked advantage, even though my current version of Elves is among the least suited for this kind of matchup.
Plus, against Walls I’m used to always draw my one copy of Harsh Sustenance .
G1: On the draw again, keeping 7. I and my opponent quickly set up mana, but neither of us has a payoff to secure the win. A couple of turns go by like this, then I skill up and draw Distant Melody . Thanks to Ivy Lane Denizen , I bring several creatures up to 4 power to barge through his walls, holding up Negate to counter a possible payoff. G1 ends with me countering Freed From the Real , leaving my opponent a little dumbfounded.
In: 1x Harsh Sustenance, 1x Viridian Longbow, 1x Nomadic Elf, 2x Hydroblast
Out: 3x Wellwisher, 2x Elvish Vanguard
Wellwisher is a 1/1 Elf Token for 2 mana in this matchup, making it an easy side-out for 2 interaction spells and coloured mana source. Last-minute, I opt for 2 Hydroblast over 2 Elvish Vanguard , as the latter is roughly just as useless as Wellwisher due to it being fogged indefinitely by my opponent’s several creatures. Hydroblast, on the other hand, has at least a shot at being useful, ideally countering Valakut Invoker . Rubblefort is also an acceptable target. I assume my opponent is playing at least one of these, as he had fielded a Tinder wall .
G2: In this matchup, there are 3 types of starting hands you should keep with Elves:
1) T2 Priest of Titania (the dream opening),
2) Turn 2 Timberwatch ,
3) a hand full of interaction. Being on the draw, I settle for the third type and keep 7 as being a turn late it’s more proper to focus on interaction rather than to mulligan to find better gas. Sadly, this hand reveals itself to be too clunky which, together with bad topdecks, allows my opponent to combo out one turn before I could properly protect myself. Thankfully, Jonathan had sided out Reaping the Graves , preventing him from fully comboing out starting from a single Drift of Phantasm (Transmute Drift for Drift > Transmute Drift for Reaping > Reaping on both Drifts > Transmute Drift for Freed > Transmute Drift for Invoker) and he’s forced to tutor up Lead the Stampede . In the following turns, I’m able to field a Timberwatch Elf to pressure my opponent then I kill a Secret Door with Harsh Sustenance to deprive my opponent of mana sinks. Thankfully, Door only works at sorcery speed, so I could save myself a lot of activations. In the following turns I mow down my opponent’s creatures with Timberwatch and Quirion Ranger , then I can finally swing for lethal.
Turn 3: Mono W Heroic
This matchup is a nightmare. Everyone seems convinced that this MU favours Elves, but I’ve always had serious troubles with it. My opponent has 2 easy ways out: Turn 1 Deftblade Elite / Turn 4 evasive kill. If you thought that Cuombajj Witches was an issue for Elves, then get ready to face something ready to kill on T2 which can deal with creatures with more than 2 Toughness. Thankfully, Elves can protect themselves with Birchlore Rangers , tapping the creature targeted with Provoke after its resolution. but before blocking. It’s far from an efficient solution, as it requires 2 untapped elves (even heavier to hold up on the draw, as we’ll have to forego our T1 play) and this is troublesome when facing a linear deck like Heroic. In contrast to Birchlore , Jaspera Sentinel works only on the play, but its printing has been a great upgrade – in our favour – for the matchup, rendering it far more playable (albeit I rarely face Mono W, so take this with a grain of salt).
G1: Like clockwork, my opponent is OTP and presents me with a T4, flying kill. I only cheat death thanks to the god hand I had, which allowed me to draw a dozen cards on T3. I can fog his flyer with Jaspera Sentinel , earning myself the one more turn that I need while holding up Negate for a protection spell.
In: 2x Masked Vandal, 1x Wellwisher, 1x Harsh Sustenance
Out: 2x Elvish Vanguard, 1x Ivy Lane Denizen, 1x Viridian Longbow
Masked Vandal can remove troublesome enchantments, like Ethereal Armor , Journey to Nowhere , and Benevolent Blessing . Going tall (Vanguard and Denizen) is unappealing against Voltron decks, as if I end up taller than them it means I’m already winning hard. As for Harsh Sustenance , I believe it to be a better removal than Viridian Longbow in the matchup. Both can deal with a Standard Bearer (and it’s good to have an answer to it), but Sustenance has the added benefit of lifegain which can mean a lot in a list without Essence Warden .
G2: Another strong start from my opponent, with a T1 Deftblade Elite . On T2, I drop Quirion Ranger and Birchlore , and for a little while, it looks like I can handle it. Sadly, Detainment Spell puts Birchlore out of commission and my opponent manages to kill my summoning-sick Priest of Titania . My luck hasn’t run out yet, however: my opening hand sported Masked Vandal , allowing me to exile the acting-removal and gain control of the match.
Round 4: Affinity
G1: Finally I see an artifact land! This is one of the MUs for which playing Elves pays dividends. For the fourth time, I lose the die roll, and for the first time I mulligan down to 6, but the game still is in my favour. I play around my opponent’s only win condition (namely Fling , which he did have in hand) by chumping Atog , prompting him to fling a creature on Wellwisher out of desperation. Needless to say that I’ve won the game from then to a moment.
In: 4x Hydroblast, 2x Blue Elemental Blast, 1x Nomadic Elf
Out: 1x Viridian Longbow, 2x Negate, 2x Lys Alana Huntmaster, 1x Ivy Lane Denizen, 1x Wellwisher
While in G1 Elves plays the control role, post-board it has to pick up the beatdown gloves to kill the opponent before he can resolve a Krark-Clan Shaman . This is why the last card to be left out is Wellwisher , if with regret. I avoid siding in artifact hate, as it’s downright harmful in this MU. The key to winning is to hold up a hand with Hydroblast up in T2 if OTD or T3 max if OTP. Everything else doesn’t matter as much.
G2: My first draw doesn’t cut it. The second has Hydroblast with no blue source but can cast a Lead the Stampede T2 to go look for Birchlore Rangers . Keeping it and not going down to 5 is a decent compromise, despite being OTD. Not having protection up T2 isn’t too tragic, as I’ll invest my mana in card draw rather than board presence. Lead sees a blue source, but it’s the wrong one ( Jaspera Sentinel ), and that’s how my board gets wiped by Krark-Clan Shaman before I can untap with Jaspera on the field.
G3: Thankfully, in this MU it’s usually enough to win one of the post sideboard matches. Now OTP, I mulligan down to 6 and keep a decent hand. I fill the board with pressure with Hydroblast up and I score an easy win.
Round 5: Mono W Heroic
G1: I finally win a die roll, but I’m forced to mulligan down to 5. Unaware of my opponent’s deck, I lead with Forest + mana dork. Thankfully, he follows with Plains + Lagonna Trail-Blazer, which roughly equals to conceding the game to me as I’m on the play. I drop Jaspera Sentinel to protect myself from a Deftblade Elite (which would have won my opponent the game had he played it T1) which shows its face in T2, but it’s too late. I start generating advantage and my opponent is unable to keep up with me.
In: 2x Masked Vandal, 1x Wellwisher, 1x Harsh Sustenance
Out: 2x Elvish Vanguard, 1x Ivy Lane Denizen, 1x Viridian Longbow
G2: I mulligan to look for a tap effect (Birchlore or Jaspera), but I can’t find it. Going down to 5 feels too risky, so I keep in the hope of not seeing Plains + Deftblade . I opt to keep the third land in my hand, just to be sure to be able to cast Lead the Stampede and look for Birchlore Rangers . A desperate plan, OTD, but desperate times call for desperate measures. In the meantime, my opponent keeps a weak hand to be able to drop Deftblade T1, forcing me to not play any creature until T4. Thankfully, his draws don’t improve much his situation, meaning that I’m still alive by Turn 4. LTS doesn’t find Birchlore , but I’ve in the meantime drawn the fourth land and filled my hand. It’s time to go to Plan C: overloading Deftblade . I field 2 Priests of Titania to make one live, then from the following turn, I begin to vomit too many creatures for my opponent to handle.
Round 6: Affinity by Pedro Francesco Ianniello
G1: I fill the board with mana dorks, just to have them cycle on T3 with a Distant Melody . My opponent Galvblasts one of my creatures in response to Melody. Not too bad, I think, it’s one of his only 4 removals and it hasn’t been employed to kill a payoff creature, albeit I do draw one less and this might signal him having more Galvs in hand. Sadly, I don’t draw anything to swing the game in my favour and the topdeck only offers lands and more mana dorks. This can, of course, happen in a deck where more than half of its 60s are mana sources.
In: 4 Hydroblast, 2 Blue Elemental Blast, 1 Nomadic Elf
Out: 1 Viridian Longbow, 2 Negate, 2 Lys Alana Huntmaster, 1 Ivy Lane Denizen, 1 Wellwisher
G2: While sideboarding, I grow convinced that my win streak has come to an end, as winning both games post-board against Affinity is quite tough. My deck, thankfully, is right there to comfort me, providing me with a god hand: Forest, Mana Dork, Quirion, Birchlore, Timberwatch, Hydroblast. On T2 OTP my board is full and I have Hydroblast up (passing with an untapped creature and potential activation of Quirion Ranger ). The game is over soon.
G3: Once again I get a good hand. The match proceeds swimmingly and I have open blue mana and two Hydroblast . I drop Timberwatch and pass with both blasts up. My opponent Galvblasts Timberwatch in my EOT and I commit a bad mistake. I hurried to counter the Galvanic Blast (having 2 hydros online allows me to protect a payoff leaving the other up to deal with KCS), but accidentally tap two useless creatures instead of one plus Timberwatch. This means that my opponent can capitalise on the situation by removing Timberwatch, eliminating both a payoff and my blue mana for one turn. This is exactly what he does, with a Cast Down , still in my end step.
In hindsight, maybe this misplay was not too significant, as if he had had KCS at that moment he could have simply used Cast Down to deprive me of blue mana before wiping my board. The ideal solution would have still been holding up 4 untapped creatures, rather than three, but I don’t quite remember if I would have had the ability to do so at that stage of the game. At this point I’m simply hoping to be able to untap for one more turn, having both Hydroblast and Melody in hand, and my opponent does indeed allow me. I resolve Melody and the game is over. I could win, by this point, even if KCS was to wipe my board, but I still counter it when he makes its appearance. The opponent cracks Star to look for a Pyroblast he’s not finding, hiding just beneath his last draw much to his understandable frustration. Would the game have gone differently had he drawn it earlier? I’m not sure, even if it’d have helped him out a tad.
Round 7: Wildfire Bully by Victor Diman
I’m now hoping to be able to tie for the last two rounds, but I get down-paired and my opponent is not feeling it. And so we play. Thankfully, this is yet another positive MU for me – unbeknownst to me – especially thanks to my choice of maindecking Viridian Longbow rather than Harsh Sustenance .
G1: I see my one copy of Longbow early on, but Victor replies swiftly with his one copy of Abrade . Thankfully, however, I can manage to bury him under a chain of Melodies and he concedes while I’m busy populating my board with a million creatures. At this point, not even Strands would help him, especially considering the two Negate I maindeck.
In: 1x Viridian Longbow, 3x Hydroblast, 1x Nomadic Elf
Out: 4x Elvish Vanguard, 1x Lys Alana Huntmaster
Vanguards are quite useless against his ranks of tokens, so they have to go. This said, now that Bully runs Fiery Cannonade it’s unlikely for him to have a sizable board, while I could make use of 3+ Toughness creatures. Cannonade has changed this MU lots and, perhaps, letting go of this “old school” plan is the right thing to do. In any case, I stuck with the old ways for this sideboard. As for countermagic, Negate is superior to Hydroblast in this MU, as there’s no need to have countermagic up right away. Having the option to counter Strands or Journey is also excellent, for which I end up siding in 3 Hydroblast and keeping 2 Negate .
G2: I hold up one counter, my opponent plays two board wipes. I get swiftly annihilated.
In: 1x Hydroblast
Out: 1x Wellwisher
I was a fool to try and make do with just 5 counters. I enact the Affinity plan and side out Wellwisher for the 4th Hydroblast , playing into the role reversal that happens post sideboard. If Bully still played Electrickery instead of Fiery Cannonade (allowing me to play Spidersilk Armor) things would be different and I wouldn’t just hold onto my Wellwishers, but I’d side in the fourth copy. However, that’s in the past. Nowadays, birds tribal plays a symmetric wipe.
G3: My opponent keeps a hand with a single land. Maybe the hand was full of hate, or maybe not to mull down to 4. I don’t remember if he had already mulliganed before. Regardless, he stays with 1 land a little too long and I win the match.
Round 8: Intentional Draw with Luca Bonuglia (Burn)
Quarter – Finals: Stompy by Valerio Ferretti
G1: I’m OTP, as first by score after the 8 turns of Swiss. I cast Timberwatch on T2, while my opponent still doesn’t have a 2-Toughness creature as an enabler for Swipe, and this lets me untap with him. If the game drags it plays in my favour, so I prefer playing around whatever card combination my opponent could play rather than trying to hurry up and win. After a short while, he concedes.
In: 2 Masked Vandal, 1 Wellwisher
Out: 1 Viridian Longbow, 1 Ivy Lane Denizen, 1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
G2: Basically G1, but with triple the Timberwatch.
Semi-FinalS: Dimir Fate by Matteo Moure
G1: My opponent casts Augur of Bolas on T2, revealing his only copy of Suffocating Fumes . However, I immediately topdeck one of my two Negate (we’re both in the semifinals for a reason, after all), granting me a little bit of peace of mind. I can’t quite remember when my opponent decides to tap out and cast Fumes, but what happens is that I hold onto a Lead the Stampede to play it in a safe spot. It fetches me Timberwatch , but my opponent has so many removals that I don’t manage to make it survive even with the second Negate .
In the end, I manage to win on the back of a horde of 1/1s, made with Huntmaster.
In: 3 Spidersilk Armor
Out: 3 Wellwisher
It’s finally time to side in the likes of this. I’d love to slot in my second Viridian Longbow as it’s resilient to removal, but I’ve only got powerful cards left in my deck. I would have to cut one Huntmaster to run the second Longbow, but I don’t feel like it. I need a lot of creatures to draw into with Lead the Stampede and I don’t want to diminish my chances to find them.
G2: Once again I’m shown Suffocating Fumes early on and once again I have a Negate to deal with it. However, this is post-board and my opponent has in hand his second and last Fumes, which kills a few of my pieces.
The match is, however, far from over. In the following turns I capitalise on the several safe spots I’m granted and resolve 3 LTS. Sadly, I only find 1 copy of Timberwatch and 1 of Elvish Vanguard among the 15 revealed, both of which get promptly killed. At this point, my opponent’s Monarch seals the game. I still keep playing, as in the Top8 time is far less restrictive and I know that resolving a Melody, as much as it is unlikely, could still turn the tables, even after several turns of Monarchy.
Sadly, this ends up biting me in the proverbial arse. I didn’t take into account how little knowledgeable my opponent was about this MU and keeping on playing teaches him about Distant Melody and Spidersilk Armor. Both cards scare him and this will lead to his unique sideboard choices in G3.
G3: I’m back on the play and I have a strong start. On T2 I drop Elvish Vanguard , with several more elves there to keep her company. On T3, my opponent is once again tapped out and I can pick between resolving Melody with what I have or dropping Ivy Lane Denizen and a mana dork, capitalising on the tempo advantage and trying to force my opponent to react to the threat while maximising the potential of Melody for the following turn. The choice isn’t as simple as it seems, but I decide to go with the second option.
I pass and my opponent cycles Ash Barrens for Swamp by tapping one of his Islands, then drops said Swamp. “I’m in the finals!”, I think to myself. Whatever he does with that two mana is fine with me: he can’t hold up Counterspell and my Melody is going to be massive. Then my Melody gets Duressed and my 6/6 Vanguard gets Snuffed Out .
I untap, draw a mana dork and shake off the nasty feeling this left in my gut, just to realise that the game is still in my favour. Thanks to Ivy Lane Denizen , nearly all of my creatures have 2 Toughness or more, making them immune to Suffocating Fumes and Augur of Bolas and allowing me to swing in for good damage each turn. A removal on my payoff would mean little, as it doesn’t take away those +1/+1 counters, so I drop my mana dork, attack and pass.
Then, I think to myself that there’s still one card that could kill me while inspecting my opponent’s board. Meanwhile, he has left 1 untapped land: Swamp. I check his graveyard: 6 cards. I start to sweat bullets. And that’s when Gurmag Angler comes in, sporting its Atog-wannabe grin. Naturally, this is where things start going south. I still have a few chances, but I’m at a big disadvantage as it stands. The opponent is tapped out, but I don’t topdeck anything relevant. Instead, he drops a fat Thorn of the Black Rose , right on my nose, immediately making up for his dwindling resources. I’ll leave the rest of the game to your imagination. And that’s how a single Duress punted me out of the Finals, which would’ve been against the fellow golden pig Mirco Ciavatta (aka Heisen01), to whom I renew my congratulations for his victory. And that’s how the story ends, for me.
I’m very happy that the Golden Pigs have managed to occupy half of the Top4.
Moreover, I was happy to have shown those gossip mongers that Elves isn’t as dead as they say. The deck has access to a great deal of mana and all 5 colours. It’s very difficult for a meta shift to completely kill the deck without letting it adapt. I’d like to remind the readers that even during Storm summer, Elves was one of the few decks capable of going toe to toe with Chatterstorm , thanks to the inclusion of Duress and/or Echoing Truth accompanied by a solid beatdown plan. Surely a meta dominated by one of Elves’ favourite opponent, this being affinity, won’t be the one to kill it, especially when one of its few truly negative MUs (UR Faes) has been phased out by a better version of itself (UB). Better against everything, except Elves.
A few weeks ago I’ve written a couple articles on the history of the Pauper metagame. You can find the second part [here], in which you can see how Elves is one of the few archetypes that has never truly gone away in the last two years, even if its presence hasn’t been as prominent as others.