Ever since the Hardened Scales deck burst on to the scene in Modern I have been trying to see if it could be ported over to Pauper. The format has a ton of +1/+1 counter synergies and access to Vault Skirge. It does lack some key elements – namely the persistent advantage provided by a card like Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Still, cards like Travel Preparations and Pollenbright Druid enticed the deck building half of my brain.
When Modern Horizons 2 rolled around I got the itch again thanks to Arcbound Mouser. Finally, Parish-Blade Trainee was the finally straw before I felt compelled to put something together. I knew I wanted to leverage Travel Preparations with Tethmos High-Priest and so I set about building a low to the ground White-Green Counter deck. After running a few iterations through the leagues, here is where I settled before putting the deck down in favor of something that was, for lack of a better term, better:
The deck performed rather admirably. It could put a lot of power on to the board quickly through the combination of Arcbound Mouser and Arcbound Worker leading into Travel Preparations and Pollenbright Druid. Ornithopter helped the deck hum in the early turns, giving you a clean target for counters if your opponent had early removal. Tethmos High-Priest gave you some action in the middle and latter stages of a game and could set up some turns where you could Duskshell Crawler in for massive damage. The combination of Thraben Inspector and Elvish Visionary provided the deck with some much needed velocity. The deck was exceptionally good at applying pressure to other fair decks in the early stages of the game and the two cheap lifelinkers could often put you in a position to where you could take a few punches.
There are two key things holding this deck back, and only one of them can be easily addressed. The first is the reliance on early artifact creatures. Affinity is a major player in the format and Dust to Dust is a common inclusion. Abrade also sees a ton of play and leaning on Vault Skirge to do the heavy lifting is a recipe for disaster. There is a solution to this – cards like Simic Initiate, Servant of the Scale, and Star Pupil all act as if they have Modular, but they can spread their gifts around to anything, not just artifacts. Sure you probably want to keep Vault Skirge in that situation, but Healer’s Hawk or other cheap lifelink creatures can do the same job.
The other problem was alluded to previously – there is no Hardened Scales. Rather, you have to do work for every little advantage and are playing a fundamentally fair game of Magic. Pauper, currently, is putting a ton of pressure on non-blue fair decks. While these decks can succeed, they often need a way to go over the top, whether it is Rally the Peasants or a Cascade threat. The Counters deck has none of that and instead tries to just play by the rules. Modern Hardened Scales needs Arcbound Ravager to do some tricks and the closest Pauper has to that creature is Atog. At that point, why are you not just playing Affinity?
I am not saying this was a failed endeavor – far from it. There are a lot of cool synergies in the deck and it is likely only one or two cards away from being a fringe contender. However, for the time being, I’m going to be investigating other options.