It’s Good to be the King

Palace Sentinels
Last week I talked about Stompy, which serves as the current baseline deck for Pauper. Your game plan for Stompy should be the first thing you think about before picking up a new deck or trying something new. When you come for the king, they say, you best not miss. While Stompy is both popular and powerful, it is not my pick for the best deck in the format. To me that title goes to Boros Monarch.

Boros Monarch is, as the name indicates, a White and Red midrange deck. It seeks to leverage a number of Artifacts that draw a card when they enter the battlefield alongside Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher to generate incremental card advantage. Eventually, the deck tries to stick a copy of Palace Sentinels and cement its role as the Monarch, turning the extra cards into damage with spells like Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast. Failing this, it can win with Battle Screech and Rally the Peasants like other Boros builds.

But it is the combination of Bolt and Blast, along with Journey to Nowhere that makes the deck well suited to take out the threats of not only Stompy but most other decks in Pauper. Kor Skyfisher and Palace Sentinels are both the right size to tussle with the bevy of 2/2 creatures seeing play. The ability to run high quality removal and creatures that matchup just good enough has given Boros Monarch a foothold at the top. Before we talk about its reign, it is important to understand how it got to this point.

Even since Mirrodin Besieged, there have been decks attempting to use Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring in concert with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher as a slow card advantage engine. The first player to find sustained success with these builds went by the moniker Turbokitty3000. Because of this the engine and similar ones have come to be known as “kitty” in Pauper discussion circles. An aside: You may notice I avoid this nomenclature. That is because I find it does not describe the deck to anyone who is not already embedded in the format and as such lacks descriptive utility. The deck ran copies of Kuldotha Rebirth as a way to absorb damage and get an extra card out of Ichor Wellspring. While the strategy never dominated Pauper it did have a good game against the dominant deck of its era in Mono-Blue Delver. The combination of cheap flying creatures and the ability to eke out an extra card every other turn proved strong enough to become a fixture in the metagame.

The next major evolution of the deck came with the introduction of the Khans of Tarkir gain lands. Prior to this, some builds of the deck started to pack Mulldrifter off of Ravnica bounce lands, the Return to Ravnica Gates, or Trinket Mage and Seat of the Synod, in conjunction Prophetic Prism. Mulldrifter gave the deck the ability to keep up on raw cards while also pulling ahead in the mid or late game. The mana base was flexible enough to allow for the inclusion of one of the single most powerful cards in the format and pilots took advantage. Kuldotha Jeskai would eventually move away from including Kuldotha Rebirth, instead shifting toward a deck that cared less about swarming and more about using its powerful burn suite to finish the game after the air force softened up the opponent.

In the wake of Peregrine Drake, these decks shifted back toward two colors. There were a number of factors that contributed to this. First, the format sped up to a point where running a three color deck that leaned heavily on a 5-drop was just too slow. Second, Thraben Inspector was printed, which replaced itself while also helping to impersonate a Mulldrifter when paired with Kor Skyfisher. Battle Screech, available for many years, was paired with Peregrine Drake’s set mate in Rally the Peasants. The trifecta allowed Boros to change how it operated in key stages of the game. Thraben Inspector made it easier for the Boros deck to see more cards in the early turns while the combination of Battle Screech and Rally the Peasants provided access to a combo-kill style victory on turn five or six. While this was not enough to overcome the strength of Drake Combo, it was strong enough for the deck to remain a consistent option once the offending card was removed from the format.

The latest evolution involves the addition of Palace Sentinels. Becoming the Monarch is absolutely worth it in Pauper as it is one of the few ways to generate a card every turn. White also has access to one of the best ways to keep the game going in Prismatic Strands. Most aggressive decks in Pauper are a single color which means that a single copy of Strands can buy two turns and thus two extra cards. The combination of these two means that if in place they will easily replace themselves (and them some).

The other key change was the replacing of Ichor Wellspring with Alchemist’s Vial. The Magic Origins common flew under the radar for so long, but its ability to stop attacks makes it the perfect card for a deck that wants to prevent combat damage. Since Pauper as a format leans toward aggro, the pieces are starting to fall into place. Boros Monarch can draw a ton of cards and does a great job obfuscating creature battles, so it makes sense it should do well in a format that is based around attacking with 2/2s.

Alchemist's Vial
Boros Monarch is a deck built on a series of synergies. There is the original Kor Skyfisher based engine. Although it is tempo negative — it sets back board development for the sake of its early card drawing engine — the payoff is powerful enough to offset the stumbling blocks. What is the payoff? In Boros Monarch it comes down to leveraging Alchemist’s Vial enter the battlefield draw and also turning on Galvanic Blast. Galvanic Blast is aided by the inclusion of Thraben Inspector and its Clue tokens. All these artifacts make it easier to run Glint Hawk which, of course, makes it so the deck can draw more cards.

Kor Skyfisher also lets you reset the Monarch if it is ever lost. The combination of Glint Hawk and Skyfisher, and occasionally Battle Screech, makes it easy to attack in the air. Once enough damage has been done the duo of Galvanic Blast and Lightning Bolt can close out the game in short order. Boros Monarch is a collection of interconnected packages that work together to make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

I am of the mindset that Boros Monarch fills a role similar to that of the Rock in other formats. Both are midrange decks that run reasonable creatures that are better in a control shell than a pure aggressive build. Boros Monarch also has a persistent form of card advantage that could be Phyrexian Arena, Dark Confidant, or Liliana of the Veil in older formats. They can both play aggressively or slow the game down for their trump cards to take over. While they may not share a color they hold a similar position in the metagame.

So why is Boros Monarch the best deck at the moment? A number of reasons. First, any deck that can effectively and reliably draw more cards than its opponents is bound to do well. Boros Monarch does this better than any other deck in Pauper. Sometimes a Delver variant can draw an extra card each turn thanks to Ninja of the Deep Hours, but that still requires attacking. That requires action while Boros Monarch can do this while thriving on inaction.

Galvanic Blast
Boros Monarch also runs the best 1-mana removal spells available. Even in its natural state, Galvanic Blast is still a Shock, which can take care of the vast majority of creatures that see play. Lightning Bolt is, well, Lightning Bolt. These two make it easy to contain the board presence of other creature decks while not being dead in matchups where there are no creatures to burn. The ability to kill two creatures for two mana allows it to keep up with decks like Stompy.

As mentioned previously, Boros Monarch owns combat. It can attack well and block better, stopping damage and drawing cards like no other. While other decks may have better Fogs they lack the ability to convert that time into cards and those cards into win. Boros Monarch is the best at this sequence. So if you had to ask me why I think Boros Monarch is the best deck at the moment I would say that it is best at using its tools to get the game to a point where it cannot lose.

Is it problematic that Boros Monarch is a good deck? In a word, no. I think it is interesting the a mechanic that was designed for multiplayer play has taken purchase in Pauper. Some have pointed to the inability to interact with the Monarch game object as a negative. To me the ability to bounce it back and forth via combat makes it fundamentally interactive, and while it cannot be removed it is not without liability.

It is also not as if Boros Monarch has been dominant for a long stretch of time. Rather it has only recently ascended to the throne. It is also a midrange strategy and is susceptible to decks that are able to go wider than Stompy while also protecting its army — other Battle Screech decks come to mind. Finally, Boros Monarch is soft to decks that can go over the top. Kor Skyfisher engine decks can take time to set up and other strategies that can assemble a winning position earlier than the Skyfisher player can often knock them off balance. Currently Tron decks can leverage their mana abundance to go over the crown. Once the metagame starts to adjust, I predict another strategy will emerge to go for the top. Until then, though, it’s good to be the king.

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