Hello and welcome to this month's edition of Treasure Cruisin'! Over the past few months, I have analyzed myriad accessible decks for Modern and Legacy. These formats are characterized by some of the most powerful cards ever printed and see widespread play. Thus, it comes as no surprise that they bear a hefty cost to acquire them. With cards like Dark Confidant quickly approaching the $100 USD mark and manabases costing several hundred dollars alone due to the presence of fetchlands, shocklands, and the original dual lands, these formats feel out of reach for many players. While Modern is still in flux due to the recent unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and there is still plenty of room to brew and explore budget options in Legacy, I wanted to bring you something different today.
While top tier decks in most formats cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, there is one where they can be had for under $100, and usually even less than $80: Pauper. The format has a massive following, both on Magic: The Gathering Online and more recently in paper. Despite being made up of only commons, this format has much to offer for someone looking to play an Eternal format. Today's deck is a personal favorite of mine, a synergistic aggro deck that can overwhelm any opposition with creatures that get out of hand fast. The best part? It's $50. Today I bring you Pauper Slivers!
Up to date pricing can be found in this deck's database entry
Slivers are both the most beloved and most hated tribe in all of Magic: The Gathering. The fundamental idea behind Slivers is that each one makes all other Slivers better. In other words, each of your Slivers are more powerful if you have other Slivers in play. This is what makes them so difficult to play against; if we hit a critical mass of Slivers, it can sometimes be impossible for our opponent to recover. Furthermore, the deck is incredibly fun to play. You get to make giant xenomorphs while swarming the board; what more could you possibly want? We'll start at the bottom of our curve, working our way up and covering each individual Sliver, showcasing what each brings to the board.
At the bottom of the curve, we have three playsets of creatures, starting with Plated Sliver. While playing a Squire might not be exciting, its toughness boost is far more relevant than many players give it credit for. The extra point of toughness can be the difference between life and death for our creatures, which is important because losing one weakens the entire team. As such, we need to keep our creatures on the board, and Plated Sliver gives us an extra boost while only being a one drop. When combined with our other lords, Plated Sliver can be what allows us to swing in for damage without losing crucial Slivers in combat. Plus, the opportunity cost is low due to it being a one mana creature. While it may seem underwhelming, don't count Plated Sliver out against other aggro decks or the many Pestilence decks.
Our next creature makes blocking not only problematic, but even outright impossible for some decks. Sidewinder Sliver gives our creatures flanking, a potent ability in combat. Essentially, if the blocking creature does not have flanking, they get -1/-1. This makes combat math a nightmare for our opponent and can force them into awkward blocking situations. X/1s are never blocking unless they absolutely have to, double blocks may be necessary to take down a single creature, and in many cases flanking is synonymous with "can't be blocked." Additionally, flanking stacks; If we have two Sidewinder Slivers in play, our creatures have two instances of flanking, which gives all nonflanking blocking creatures -2/-2. It is important to note that flanking only applies when we attack. Blocking with a flanking creature does not affect the attacker's power and toughness. Sidewinder Sliver, while being unimpressive on its own, will dominate combat once we start swarming.
For when you need both regular
damage and poison counters
The last creature makes life totals irrelevant, giving us an alternate win condition. Virulent Sliver is one of the strangest cards in the deck. Unlike the rest of our creatures that affect how our creature perform in combat, this toxic predator only affects how we damage our opponent. While it is easy to draw parallels between poisonous and infect, the two have many differences that are important to keep in mind when playing with Virulent Sliver. The most obvious one is that a creature with poisonous will not deal damage in the form of -1/-1 counters like a creature with infect does. More interestingly, a creature with poisonous 1 will always give the opponent one poison counter when it damages them regardless of its power. The last difference is hard to catch because it lies in the rules text. While infect deals damage in the form of poison counters, poisonous just gives the opponent a poison counter. The lack of "in the form of" in the rules text means poisonous creatures also deal regular damage! While this seems complex and somewhat unnecessary, there are some matchups where we want this effect, and without it we couldn't possibly win. Decks such as Elves, Boggles, and Black/White Pestilence tend to gain large amounts of life; and in the case of Pestilence are very good at controlling the board. By utilizing poison, we gain a new way to win that our opponent cannot interact with. The damage is permanent, and our opponent's life total becomes meaningless. Virulent Sliver can win games that we otherwise couldn't, and in an aggro deck that makes a world of difference.
Muscles and Sinew and Predators, Oh My!
While our suite of one-drops gives us turn-one creatures to start beating down with, our two-drops are where the deck excels. For starters, we get to play twelve copies of (essentially) the same card: Muscle Sliver, its color-shifted cousin Sinew Sliver, and the aptly named Predatory Sliver. All of these give our Slivers +1/+1, and their stat boost is what will win the majority of our games. It is not uncommon to see a board that's getting +3/+3. With creatures that large, we can plow through any blockers we may face. Despite them all doing the same thing, these three cards are not entirely the same. Muscle Sliver and Sinew Sliver, just like most of our creatures, affect all Slivers. If our opponent has Slivers, they will also get +1/+1 and our's will with their lords. Predatory Sliver is the only creature that pumps our team and only affects our Slivers. Thus, in the Slivers mirror match, Predatory Sliver can be what makes or breaks us. While this won't come up often, it is necessary knowledge to have when piloting the deck. It is best to play these early and often to maximize their impact, and sometimes games can be won simply by dropping these turn after turn. These form the backbone of our deck, and we are never upset to see one.
Our last few creatures are what gives the deck an edge over other aggressive strategies. Because our creature curve stops at two, we come out the gate swinging. In order to aid in this, we have a full playset of Gemhide Sliver at our disposal. Turning all of our creatures into Birds of Paradise not only fixes our mana, but also turns each creature into a mana accelerant. This means we can deploy our Slivers faster with each passing turn and makes our starts explosive. This is generally one of the first two drops to hit the board before we start casting our lords because we want the mana as soon as possible. The only downsides of Gemhide Sliver are that it does not pump our team and its stats are entirely dependent on our other creatures. This makes it a prime removal target, and it usually dies on our end step or during our opponent's next turn. If we manage to untap with it, however, we can take over the game by dropping our hand onto the table.
Time to take the "I'm not touching you"
game to the next level.
Next, we have a pair of Talon Slivers. First strike is potent when our creatures are the same size as our opponent's. A board of 2/2s and 3/3s can sometimes create a board stall, but tacking on first strike demands double blocks to deal with a single creature. This card is also very versatile in that we can also use it to either break through a board stall or create one if we need to sit back and further develop our boardstate. When playing this deck, but especially when we have Talon Sliver in play, it is important to evaluate each creature we're swinging with. Ask yourself, "Can I afford to lose this creature, and consequently its effect, in combat?" If the answer is, "No," avoid attacking with it. First strike is going to make our opponent think more critically about their blocks, which means they will try to eliminate whatever Sliver is giving the most trouble. While we will have to take risks in order to get damage through, do not be reckless: do the combat math and evaluate your opponent's options before declaring your attacks. It is okay to lose creatures, but try to avoid losing more than you can afford to.
To assist our team in dominating the red zone, we also pack two copies of Sentinel Sliver. Vigilance is a huge boon to our board when we are staring down an opposing creature deck. We can beat down relentlessly while still being able to block on the backswing. If our creatures our larger than our opponent's we can attack with impunity. If they're about equal or they're wider than us, be wary; a few choice blocks can ruin our board. Additionally, we can end up attritioning ourselves out of the game by losing a few creatures each attack. It is easy to just attack with everything because we can, but this is a great way to lose unless we weigh the opposition's options. Because Slivers are hyper-synergistic, picking apart our creatures is the best way to beat us. We shouldn't give our opponent opportunities to do that. As such, if we need the blockers, it may be best to hold Sentinel Sliver back and not risk losing it in combat.
Our last creature is a singleton inclusion for fighting a specific strategy. Spinneret Sliver gives Slivers reach, which is very effective in one matchup: Delver of Secrets. It is is easily the most popular deck in the format, with variants in mono-blue, blue/black. and blue/red. Spinneret Sliver gives us an edge against it while not weakening the deck. Additionally, with Mono-White Heroic getting more popular, being able to block fliers is more important today than it has been in the past. Even against various Kor Skyfisher decks, reach is relevant. Without our web-making Sliver, we would lose to fliers. This gives us some game against them while not taking up valuable space.
To help us end the game quickly, we play a few spells that keep us attacking. It is important to understand that I chose to play what I preferred here. This is not the absolute best card selection, and in fact is arguably worse. However, they were made with meta considerations in mind. I'll discuss adjustments later and what you can do to make these slots more optimal for a more common metagame.
For removal, we have two copies of Journey to Nowhere. Most Sliver decks play fight effects, such as Epic Confrontation, as their removal of choice, but I prefer Journey. Pauper is a format dominated by decks playing Gurmag Angler, and with the recent rarity downshifting of Balduvian Horde, we can expect to see a lot of 5/5s from our opponents. Creatures of this size are incredibly difficult to deal with because we cannot reliably make our creatures that large, meaning we have to get through them by other means. Rather than trading a creature and a spell to defeat them with fight effects, Journey simply removes them from the game. Whatever creature is bothering us, we can get rid of it, no questions asked. Keep in mind that because of how it is worded, we choose the target after the spell resolves. If our opponent asks us what we're targeting, that means Journey resolves. They can respond to us targeting, but they notably cannot counter Journey after we choose targets. Obviously, don't immediately choose targets; give your opponent a chance to respond to it. It's not only courteous, it allows you to make better plays as well.
Next, we run Mutagenic Growth as a two-of. It is not only great for pushing damage through, but also for saving our creatures against damage-based removal, such as Lightning Bolt, or Disfigure-type effects. Because we can pay life instead of mana, we can use our mana to play more Slivers and still hold up a pump spell to cast when we need to. It is not too bad of a loss if we have to cast at after combat to save our creature from an impending removal spell, and the amount of pump spells we play and what pump we run is very customizable, but most almost every Sliver deck plays some number of Mutagenic Growth in the mainboard.
I don't remember having this many people
to choose from during recess kickball.
The last noncreature spell is how we keep getting drawing gas. Lead the Stampede fights the classic problem aggro decks have: losing the long game. Many aggressive strategies sacrifice the ability to compete with card advantage for threat density and speed. This is part of why aggro decks struggle against two-for-ones and decks able to keep answers in their hand. Lead the Stampede refills our hand when we cannot push through our opponent's defenses or if we need to recover from a board wipe. With cards such as Swirling Sandstorm becoming more popular, we need to play more ways to apply pressure after a sweeper. Because we play thirty-three creature cards, we're almost guaranteed to hit at least one creature. While the probabilities will vary based upon how many creatures are in our deck versus how many cards are left in our deck, we typically draw at least three cards off of this, but hitting two is still good in a deck that needs to keep creatures on the board. We can also use this to dig five cards deep into our deck if we need a particular Sliver. Notably, we do not have to reveal every creature we hit off of Lead the Stampede, but rather only the ones we want to go to our hand. We can use this to avoid unnecessary discarding down to hand size on the cleanup step. Whether we need to recover from a board wipe or mulliganed low, Lead the Stampede gives us action when we need it.
Our manabase needs to meet one goal: provide both colors of mana untapped by turn two. To accomplish this, we play plenty of basic lands to play our creatures on curve in the early game—seven Forests and seven Plains. The earlier we can play our creatures, the better. However, basics alone will not provide us with both of our colors consistently, and thus we need to sacrifice speed sometimes for the sake of being able to cast our spells. A playset of Blossoming Sands is the best and most efficient way to bring both colors online early, and the incidental lifegain is never a downside. Additionally, we play two copies of Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse. These get whatever color we are missing and take a land out of our deck, which is useful in a deck that does not require very much mana to operate and needs to draw creatures more often than not. The opportunity cost to running a couple copies is low, and brings us to six lands that enter play tapped, which is the maximum number that I would play. While our curve demands more green than white, I opted for a perfectly even split to allow playing Sidewinder Sliver and Plated Sliver—our most impactful one mana plays—on turn one more frequently. This bring us to twenty lands, which is just enough for the deck to function but also not gives us more dead draws. We need to draw creatures to keep pressuring our opponent. By minimizing the amount of lands we run, we lessen the chances of flooding out in the lategame.
Sideboards are always going to be reflective of what we need to beat. This varies from place to place, and as such all sideboards are dependent on your local metagame. If we don't know what to expect, I recommend trying the following setup.
- Two copies of Armadillo Cloak are excellent against opposing aggro decks or strategies that also play large creatures. Decks such as Burn and Affinity have a very difficult time trying to race this, and if we need to we can use this to put our creatures on par with a Gurmag Angler or Balduvian Horde. Alternatively, we can use this as a pseudo-Pacifism by enchanting our opponent's creature. Because of the way Cloak is worded, we gain the life whenever it deals damage, essentially making our life total immune to it! This tactic is especially useful against Mono-White Heroic, where we can destroy several turns of work by rendering their biggest creature useless.
- A pair of Natural State pull double duty as artifact and enchantment hate. They have a wide range applicability, from artifact lands to Circle of Protections to auras in Bogles. These are also excellent if we suspect our opponent is bringing in artifacts or enchantments from their sideboard, in which case we can come into game two prepared for them.
- Prismatic Strands appears as a two-of. Control decks pose major problems for our deck, and board wipes like Pestilence, Swirling Sandstorm, and Evincar's Justice can halt our offensive. Strands will save our board so we can fight another day. Additionally, it is useful against other creature decks because it can turn great attacks or blocks into annihilating ones. It utterly destroys our opponent's combat math and crafts a one-sided board wipe out of a few trades. Keep in mind that playing around Pestilence is very difficult with Prismatic Strands. They have to either put all of their activations on the stack at once rather than put them on and let them resolve one at a time or be out of mana. Furthermore, it prevents all damage sources of the chosen color would deal. If we name green or white, our creatures of those colors will not deal damage this turn
- A duo of Pulse of Murasa aids in grindy matchups. The lifegain helps keeps us ahead, and the ability to recur another creature is excellent for keeping creatures on the board. Bring these in against decks like Tortured Existence, Blue/Black Control, and other decks that force the game to go long.
- As additional helps against control, we run a pair of Quick Sliver. Being able to deploy our creatures at instant speed is a force to be reckoned with, turning all of our creatures into combat tricks and brunt removal. The potential to swing in and drop a new effect for our board makes combat math abysmal. Against control decks, we can play our creatures on our opponent's end step, meaning that if they want to counter a spell they'll have to tap mana for it on their turn, leaving less mana for them to use on our turn. It is all-around an annoying card to deal with that opens up many tricks to surprise our opponent with.
- A pair of Ray of Revelation serves as additional enchantment hate for decks with dedicated enchantment-based gameplans.
- A trio of Vines of Vastwood is a hard counter to targeted removal that doubles as a pump spell. Any deck playing removal is not going to enjoy seeing our creature not only become hexproof, but also much larger. We can cast this on an unblocked creature and just win the game out of no where, or just eat another creature in combat. There are very few situations where Vines is not what we want to be drawing.
You know that feeling when you're already
having a really bad day, and then Starbucks
messes up your order?
Upgrades and Adjustments
This deck, as presented, is a full Pauper deck; there are no budget replacements in the decklist. Thus, the only things to discuss are optional adjustments. First, if you're new to the format and do not know what your local metagame is like, I strongly suggest moving Vines of Vastwood from the sideboard into the mainboard. Most, if not all, builds of Slivers play them in the maindeck. Playing them in the sideboard is my personal preference. The easiest way to beat Slivers is picking apart our board by removing the most crucial cards in play. Vines gives us a way to protect them while punishing our opponent in combat. Second, I would also include some number of Epic Confrontation instead of Journey to Nowhere. The pump effect is great for swinging in, and when we can remove a blocker with it as well it forms a potent spell.
After these two changes, the deck is incredibly customizeable. Many lists have started moving away from Gemhide Sliver in favor of more pump spells, which is always a viable option if that style of play suits you. If our current suite of pump spells is not quite what we want, Thrill of the Hunt is a very good choice that we can recast once for extra damage or simply for removal protection. For extra threats, Hive Stirrings used to see far more play than it does now, where it is almost eschewed from the archetype entirely. Still, putting two bodies onto the board is great when paired with a few other Slivers, but Lead the Stampede accomplishes the same goal and does a much better job of it. Almost all lists follow a similar curve to ours and play eight Forests and six Plains instead of the even split, which is what we want if we fill we do not get enough green mana.
It is also possible to splash an extra color or two off of Crumbling Vestige,Survivors' Encampment, and Gemhide Sliver. This opens up some fun options but can also make the deck rather clunky. If you are looking to do this, be sure you have a good reason for it because it is not always wise to play this build. In blue, we gain access to Winged Sliver and Shadow Sliver for evasion, but also card draw and a slew of sideboard cards such as Hydroblast. Red is one of the most interesting splashes because almost all of the Slivers in red are playable: Striking Sliver, Two-Headed Sliver, Blur Sliver, Hunter Sliver, and the peculiar Homing Sliver. Of course, it also gives us some sideboard staples. Black is rather difficult to pull off. The major draw to it is Crypt Sliver, but after that the rest of the color's selection devolves into worse versions of cards that we already play.
All in all, there is plenty of room to brew and experiment with Slivers, making it an excellent choice for new players, both to Magic and Pauper!
That brings us to the end of this month's Treasure Cruisin'! What do you think about Slivers? I personally love the tribe, and the fact that it is a competitive deck in Pauper brings joy to my disgusting, scythe-handed heart. It is an excellent way to jump into the format or begin attending events at your local game store. With Pauper becoming more popular in paper every day, trying to get your store to support it will not be difficult. What other decks would you like to see? You can ask me questions are deck suggestions in the comments, PM them to me, or tweet at me, @cavalrywolfpack. Until next time, keep on cruisin'!