Over the last couple years, the Pauper format has changed significantly. One of the biggest factors that contributed to this certainly has to do with the large number of cards being downshifted to commons. Recently, Commander Masters brought a whole new wave of commons into the format. Cards like Cryptic Serpent and All that Glitters have made their way into top-tier archetypes, shifting the metagame even more.
Interestingly, though, despite the introduction of all these Commander Masters cards to the Pauper format, one particular archetype with no new additions in the last few months continues to dominate. In fact, half of the decks in top 16 of Sunday’s Magic Online Pauper Challenge were of the same archetype! This archetype is very cheap, blazingly fast, and extremely consistent. I’m talking about none other than mono-red burn.
Mono-red burn has existed in Pauper for many years, but over the last two years, it has gotten some extremely strong upgrades. Even with the influx of new cards to other archetypes in recent months, mono-red continues its path of destruction. What makes this deck so strong and capable of putting up great results week after week?
A Need for Speed
The biggest appeal to playing mono-red burn is that the deck is incredibly fast. If the opponent stumbles even a little, they are likely in trouble. Considering just how many Lands enter the battlefield tapped in the format, it can be difficult for multi-color decks to consistently interact early. Furthermore, what really sets burn decks over the edge was the addition of Monastery Swiftspear. Monastery Swiftspear is quite capable of dealing a ton of damage if the opponent can’t remove it in the first few turns.
On rate, Monastery Swiftspear is one of the best cards in the format. Starts from the burn deck involving multiple copies of Monastery Swiftspear often feel hopeless for the opponent. After all, mono-red burn is unsurprisingly filled with a bunch of the best burn spells MTG has to offer. Cards like Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning threaten to deal the opponent a ton of damage in conjunction with Monastery Swiftspear, while also just acting as efficient removal spells to boot.
Beyond Monastery Swiftspear, this deck often makes use of Dwarven Forge-Chanter as another Creature with Prowess to help maximize the high number of spells this deck plays. Dwarven Forge-Chanter’s Ward ability can be quite annoying, as all the damage this deck deals adds up rather quickly. Everything we have discussed so far sounds quite typical for an average burn deck, but Pauper burn has some interesting card choices that help make the deck even harder to prepare for.
An Artifact Subtheme
Perhaps the most unique aspect of mono-red burn in Pauper is the use of a lot of Artifacts. The most powerful Artifact this deck has access to is definitely Experimental Synthesizer. Synthesizer is an elite card in Pauper for decks with lots of cheap spells. It provides extra Prowess triggers for your Creatures and has built-in card advantage as long as you can play the cards that get exiled with it. Notably, Experimental Synthesizer triggers when it leaves the battlefield as well. Obviously, this works well in combination with its own sacrifice ability that gives you a 2/2 for three mana. Three-mana is a lot, but it’s a nice option to have. However, there’s another reason the deck runs this card outside of the value it provides on its own.
Beyond Monastery Swiftspear and Dwarven Forge-Chanter, this deck utilizes Kuldotha Rebirth as a way to generate multiple threats at once. Kuldotha Rebirth works extremely well with Experimental Synthesizer, allowing you to get the leaves-the-battlefield triggers for only one mana along with a handful of 1/1 Goblins. To maximize Kuldotha Rebirth, this deck plays Voldaren Epicure, Great Furnace, and Implement of Combustion to make sure there are Artifacts in play to sacrifice. All of these Artifacts also help enable Galvanic Blast to sometimes deal four damage instead of two, which is fantastic.
Up to this point, it may seem like mono-red burn is at the mercy of effective hate cards, such as Weather the Storm. The thing is, beating this deck is nowhere near that simple. Between the Prowess Creatures and Kuldotha Rebirth, this deck puts a lot of pressure on the opponent in combat. While single-target removal is effective against the Prowess Creatures, it isn’t as effective against Kuldotha Rebirth. Sure, cards like Hydroblast are great, but even they aren’t as good as you might think, especially because of how much card advantage this deck can generate.
Experimental Synthesizer is a house, but it’s not the only source of card advantage this deck can play. Both Reckless Impulse and Wrenn’s Resolve help make sure this deck doesn’t run out of gas. This makes the Prowess Creatures extremely reliable while also helping the burn deck play a longer, grindier game than you might expect. It truly is more difficult for the opponent to have a solid gameplan against this deck than you might expect.
Weather the Storm can gain some life, but it doesn’t deal with the threats on board that will continue to deal a bunch of damage every turn. If you play single-target removal, Kuldotha Rebirth alongside some card advantage goes a long way. This deck can also adjust to metagame changes relatively well. If more speed is needed against opposing combo decks, cards like Goblin Bushwhacker hit hard. If you expect to play longer games, adding extra copies of Reckless Impulse or Wrenn’s Resolve is a good place to start. Simply metagaming to beat this deck is more difficult than it looks, which is what makes it so scary. Even still, this deck does have some weaknesses that should be mentioned.
We mentioned that life gain cards aren’t always as effective as you might expect against Pauper burn decks. That being said, large threats with Lifelink that are difficult to interact with can be very difficult to beat. Take Pauper Bogles, for example. As fast as burn is, racing a buffed-up Creature with Hexproof and Lifelink can be a near-impossible task. Armadillo Cloak is extra scary, because it works well in multiples. Rather than giving Lifelink, the Aura specifically provides the life gain as a trigger for when the Enchanted Creature deals damage. Therefore, putting multiple copies of Armadillo Cloak on a Creature with Hexproof and attacking will cause you to gain life multiple times.
Bogles isn’t the only deck that can create a big monster that gains life. Dimir Tolarian Terror decks can cast Tolarian Terror for one mana after filling the graveyard with Instants and Sorceries, then cast Unexpected Fangs targeting Tolarian Terror. Now, the opponent has access to a 6/6 with Lifelink and Ward two, which can also be quite difficult to race.
Sources of repeatable life gain are likely the best way to fight this deck. Even cards like God-Pharoah’s Faithful out of the Familiars deck can be quite annoying. Additionally, Prismatic Strands is an excellent tool against mono-red burn, since it helps stop damage from both burn spells as well as red Creatures in combat while still letting Creatures of other colors deal combat damage. The thing is, as good as these options are, many require a decent amount of setup, and mono-red burn decks don’t give much time to do so. Speed kills, and the fact that burn can play a longer game too when necessary, makes it extremely strong. If you are looking to get into Pauper, definitely make sure to have a gameplan for this matchup.