A Guide to Pauper Archetypes - Midrange

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A Guide to Pauper Archetypes - Midrange

05/29/22 Comment regular icon0 comments

A compilation of decks that fit the Midrange category on Pauper, with a breakdown of their strategies and their history in the format.

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By Romeu

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translated by Romeu

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revised by Tabata Marques

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Have you ever been interested in a format, but didn't know exactly which deck you'd like to play in it? Afraid to invest in a list and not like how it operates, or just have no idea how the main deck works? When you sit at a table playing games, do you prefer quick games where you attack with your creatures, or longer games where every play make needs to be calculated? Or are you the kind of person who prefers the allure of seeing the magic of interactions between your cards work while your opponent watches? What game proposal do you want to make the most of your experience?

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This article is dedicated to players who are interested in Pauper but don't know enough about it yet to know what decks they would like to play with or what strategies fit what you usually pilot in other formats. In the quest to facilitate the answers to these questions, I have categorized the main and most famous archetypes in the Metagame or in the community, based on their strategies and with a general analysis of what to expect from each of their respective lists, covering the main archetypes within each category, as well as explaining how they work and their pros and cons. In the previous article, we discussed the Aggro macro-archetypelink outside website, and today I direct your attention gradually to the other spectrum, passing through the

Midrange

to, in the next article, we talk about Control and later on about Combo.

Midrange in Pauper

Midrange has always been a viable strategy in Pauper, but its position in the Metagame has consolidated itself as the main pillar of the Metagame in recent years to the point that it is possible to say that, today, the format is dictated by this macro-archetype. Several factors contributed to getting us to where we are today: the introduction of the Monarch mechanic, the banning of Gush and Daze, which reduced the requirement for a very high mana efficiency in the Metagame, the arrival of spells, interactions, and mechanics that reinforce this strategy, and more recently, the banning of essential pieces of the former main Midrange predator — Tron. However, the most important point for the growing success of this category in the format is given by the very nature of Midrange, where its strategy doesn't include being, specifically, the fastest deck or the one that controls the game better, but adapting to the situation, being the beatdown when the board is prone to it and Control being when you need to hold the game, and Pauper is a format that is particularly lacking in exceptional elements for fast Aggro decks (such as aggressive creatures with added value or that speed up the game too much, you'll probably never see anything similar to Gruul Spellbreaker coming out of a common slot) and for Control (there are no Planeswalkers, sweepers are conditional, and the best Card Advantage engines involve interactions with creatures, forcing that Pauper's Control decks also occasionally need to behave like a Midrange), while abounding in mechanics and card interactions that complements strategies aimed at attrition and resource exchanges, with multiple means of obtaining value and card advantage. That is precisely the universe that Midrange needs to thrive. For a better understanding of the Midrange category, I separated the decks based on the engines that make them viable in the competitive scenario, but I emphasize that the archetype is currently aimed at joining two or more engines in a single list. Faeries, for example, use Blue-Based alongside Monarch to establish their advantage in long games, Boros runs both Monarch and interactions with Kor Skyfisher, and so on.

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The Blue-Based

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Blue-Based Decks have been a recurring element of Pauper since the last decade, and stand out for the consistency their cantrips offer in finding the right answers at the right time, working on a theory known as

Turbo Xerox

, which is, commonly, the strategy that defines the best strategies of eternal formatslink outside website.
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Another important pillar of Blue-Based are the Faerie creatures with powerful ETB effects such as Spellstutter Sprite which, in the worst case, comes coupled with a Mental Misstep and Faerie Seer with the top manipulation, along with a pseudo "bounce" with Ninja of the Deep Hours's Ninjutsu, forcing an aggressive opening early in the game that forces the opponent to respond to the Ninja, or allowing you to reuse your creatures at the right moment, offering an extremely flexible play style

Izzet Faeries

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With Faeries' two historical predators, Stompy and Boros, bolstered by the inclusion of Palace Sentinels and Burning-Tree Emissary, Mono Blue versions (which we discussed in the Aggro section) lost popularity for not being able to keep up with the rest of the Metagame. A few weeks later, players started adopting a splash to red to gain access to better cards on the maindeck, such as functional removals with Lightning Bolt and Skred, as well as a broader Sideboard to handle these matchups, and also improve the mirror match and the recent discovered Flicker Tron with Pyroblast. This splash gave rise to less aggressive versions of Faeries, which swapped Tempo elements (some lists didn't even run Daze because it got worse as the game went on) to improve it against other Midrange decks, enabling the archetype to perform well in longer games without worrying about how many turns have passed or whether the usefulness of its spells were being limited.
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After the Blue Monday, the Izzet variants remained in the Metagame and formed Pauper's Tier 1 for quite some time when the format was healthy, and as of this writing, it is still well-positioned and has inherent advantages. compared to other versions, such as having better answers against artifacts and the inclusion of Pyroblast in the Sideboard.

Dimir Faeries

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However, the release of Cast Down in Double Masters and the inclusion of several other powerful pieces in 2020 and 2021, such as Suffocating Fumes and Unexpected Fangs, have brought to light the potential that Dimir Faeries could have on the format, especially by playing the most powerful free spell available right now, Snuff Out.
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Dimir Faeries also offers two Metagame-relevant perks: black removals cannot be targeted by Hydroblast, while Gurmag Angler offered an easy-to-protect threat that set a four-turn clock on an empty board, complementing one of the main weaknesses that Faeries have for playing with small creatures, which gives too much time for the opponent to recover through good topdecks.

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The splash for black offers a great range with dedicated discards like Duress, sacrifice effects like Chainer's Edict, plus a powerful threat in grindy matchups, Okiba-Gang-Shinobi, making the Dimir combination the most efficient today among the Blue-Based, as it behaves well against most of the Metagame.
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With the advent of attrition games, both variants have adopted the Monarch mechanic as a means of establishing their card advantage, as with so many small creatures and Instant-Speed ​​effects, it's not too difficult to maintain the crown for a few turns or take it back if the opponent casts their own Monarch. Which brings us to the next Midrange category:

The Monarch

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Monarch, an ability from a special multiplayer draft-focused set, Conspiracy: Take the Crown, was one of the most considerable changes Pauper underwent with its arrival in Magic Online in early 2017. Before its arrival, many archetypes had to rely on micro-interactions to gain card advantage, such as using bounce effects plus ETB triggers with Kor Skyfisher and Prophetic Prism, or with creatures that offered an instant 2-for-1, such as Sea Gate Oracle and Phyrexian Rager. But Monarch made it possible for players who could keep the board clean to have a pseudo-Phyrexian Arena every turn in a format where recurring draw was scarce, creating a rise of long games aimed primarily at whoever holds the Monarch longer. This eventually led to a grave problem in Pauper, where Monarch created such a huge resource disparity between the two players that all certain decks had to do to win was avoid taking combat damage from the opponent at all costs because eventually, you would overwhelm them with the extra resources you gain every turn, leading to the rise of effects like Prismatic Strands which, along with combat soft-locks with Tron's Stonehorn Dignitary and Moment's Peace, created a situation where Aggro simply couldn't keep up in the Metagame. Over the years, Monarch has become so prevalent in the format that and even lists that didn't need it, as we saw with the Blue-Based above, now need to include the mechanic in their lists. However, in the last few months, Monarch has become less relevant in Pauper due to the faster and more proactive means to obtain card advantage, as we will see next with Artifact interactions, making it less essential, but still relatively present in the Metagame. As for strategies aimed at obtaining and retaining Monarch throughout the game, we can divide them into two categories: Black-Based and White-Based decks.

Mono Black Devotion

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Mono Black Devotion (or as some call it, Mono Black Control, although I categorize them as different archetypes) was, at the beginning of the format, the main example of Midrange for having a fair game against basically any other deck that wasn't called Burn.

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Its strategy basically involves playing a bunch of creatures that have some additional effect besides decent bodies, like Chittering Rats and Phyrexian Rager, controlling the board with efficient removals and then keeping resources flowing with Thorn of the Black Rose. Finally, Gray Merchant of Asphodel offers a high amount of lifedrain if you prevent your opponent from interacting with your creatures, being excellent against aggressive archetypes. However, Mono Black Devotion has a serious problem compared to other Midranges: its strategy is extremely linear and lacks micro-interactions that allow it to keep up with the rest of the Metagame, which now has two to three card advantage resources on the same list.

Rakdos Monarch

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Before Blue Monday, one of Mono Black Devotion's weaknesses was the lack of really relevant answers for Blue-Based Decks, which led to the popularization of Rakdos Monarch, initially a list that swapped Devotion for powerful individual threats like Gurmag Angler and later on, a discard-themed deck coupled with more powerful 2-for-1 late-game effects such as Boarding Party.
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Currently, Rakdos Monarch doesn't offer anything the Metagame really needs, but it gave space and relevance to the construction of one of the main archetypes that we will see later in this article, Jund Cascade.

Boros Bully

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In the White-Based spectrum, Monarch's most popular option is Boros Bully, a list that bets on a more aggressive stance with spells like Battle Screech and Seeker of the Way to populate the board and, therefore, retain your main source of card advantage while managing to take a proactive stance, including a “free win” button with Rally the Peasants.
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The list also adopts graveyard recursion with

Flashback

cards, allowing Faithless Looting to not only filter your hand, but virtually offer you two "extra" cards for just one mana, since that you can easily reuse what was discarded. Currently, Boros Bully is probably the only Monarch-Based that achieves consistent results against other alternative engines the format currently has, and despite its inherent weakness against Suffocating Fumes and other sweepers, its positive matchup against Faeries and ability to play around another top tier like Affinity and seek to win through a race with flying threats gives it a strategic advantage in the current Metagame.

Boros Monarch

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Despite not being played as much anymore due to Experimental Synthesizer's rise, Boros Monarch was the archetype that gave birth to most lists based on this mechanic. Therefore, it deserves an honorable mention in this category.
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Having been born as a variant of the then-famous Kuldotha Boros, another historical deck that has established itself as Faeries' predator, Boros Monarch seeks to establish the constant reuse of artifacts with ETB effects that draw cards to stay in the game, bouncing them to extract value from effects that would naturally be disadvantageous, like Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk.
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Due to having so many artifacts, it was possible to run some of the best removals Pauper offers, with both Galvanic Blast and Lightning Bolt serving to increase the clock or end the game. Boros Monarch had the advantage of being extremely adaptable to the Metagame, with flexible slots and a manabase that even allowed the use of a splash for black or blue for elements such as Reaping the Graves and Okiba-Gang Shinobi.

Orzhov Monarch

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Closing the Monarchs section, we have a variant that tries to capture the best of different worlds within this strategy, the Orzhov Monarch.
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It attempts to mix the Kor Skyfisher interactions with the removals and disruptions typical of Black-Based decks, while also taking advantage of the inevitability that Omen of the Dead and Custodi Squire can offer by being constantly recast and then bounced back to its owner's hand.
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Another iteration that the list resorts to is Orzhov Pestilence's basic function, a Control list that will be mentioned in the next article, of constantly keeping the board clean with Pestilence, an enchantment that you can keep on the battlefield as long as you have a creature in play, something not too difficult when you run Guardian of the Guildpact, which has protection from the damage dealt by the enchantment to creatures. The combination of these interactions makes this version extremely versatile, both in proactive and reactive play, but it doesn't exceed in either one compared to the other lists, causing it to fall into disuse on the current Metagame.

The Artifacts

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Between 2020 and 2022, one of the most discussed topics in recent releases were artifacts, thus establishing a significant increase in the number of interactions with this permanent type in Pauper. Unlike what we usually see with cantrips, which bet on quality instead of quantity at the lowest cost, and in Monarch, which bets on quantity in the long term, artifact interactions bets on immediate quantity at the lowest cost. For example, both Deadly Dispute and Thoughtcast offer two new cards for just one or two mana, and some interactions with artifacts like Experimental Synthesizer offer up to four cards for an extremely low cost, making it the most efficient value engine in the format today.

Boros Synthesizer

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Among these, the Boros Synthesizer is highlighted as the natural evolution of Boros Monarch, and the return to the origins of the Kuldotha Boros made possible with Experimental Synthesizer interactions.
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While not every list has Kuldotha Rebirth, the one-mana spell allows for one of the most aggressive openings in the format while offering two extra cards for two mana alongside Kamigawa's artifact, which also interacts exceptionally with Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk, two creatures that set the clock through the air and exceptionally block faeries and other creatures.
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A highlight of Boros Synthesizer for me is that it's probably the best Midrange variant to play Seeker of the Way, as it's easy to get two or more triggers from it, offering an efficient threat which can easily dictate the game, in addition to establishing a more aggressive strategy on early stages.

Grixis Affinity

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Affinity is one of Pauper's historic archetypes and one that has come almost full circle within the archetypes category: starting out as an explosive Aggro-Combo but inconsistent due to its manabase, it became a Midrange-Combo when Modern Horizons II brought the Bridges to significantly complement its manabase, and after three consecutive bans which have pushed it completely out of the combo category, Affinity remains a massively powerful Midrange deck, being possibly the best deck today.
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Occasionally found in Rakdos versions, but mostly on Grixis, Affinity combines powerful creatures that can be cast for cheap, or even for free, with artifacts that offer additional effects beyond counting towards affinity.
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Each artifact on the list also interacts incredibly well with other pieces that aim to establish card advantage or add inevitability to the game, such as Makeshift Munitions.
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Since most of them have a draw effect when put into the graveyard, you can draw up to three cards with Deadly Dispute for just one mana, turning it into a pseudo-Ancestral Recall.
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The bridges-enhanced manabase makes it easy for Affinity to have the colors it needs to cast its spells, allowing it to use a very efficient answers mix between the maindeck and sideboard, making it a complete and robust machine able to play favorably against most of the format, leading players to question whether Deadly Dispute's permanence in the Metagame is still healthy.

Mardu Affinity

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Having appeared occasionally on recent weeks, Mardu Affinity blends the best of both worlds between Boros Synthesizer and Rakdos Affinity, offering a core to take full advantage of Experimental Synthesizer with bounce and Deadly Dispute, while also offering both a powerful ground clock with Myr Enforcer and in the air with Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk.

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Cascade

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Cascade is all about speeding up your mana to cast large threats that offer 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 effects if you're lucky, and we can categorize them into two variants: Disruptive and Interactive.

Gruul Cascade

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The versions that I consider as disruptive are based on Gruul Cascade, resorting to LD spells like Mwonvuli Acid-Moss and Thermokarst to delay the opponent's game while accelerating their mana with Arbor Elf and Llanowar Visionary, as well as enchantments like Utopia Sprawl and Wild Growth.
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These lists, at least on the maindeck, tend to lack many interactions and largely bet on playing with a more aggressive stance after destroying the opponent's first lands, sequencing one threat after another until burying them in card advantage and impactful creatures.
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Post-sideboard, Ponza (as some call LD decks) can give up its main strategy in favor of a more interactive game with removals, sweepers, additional threats, among other options.
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The advantage Gruul Cascade has in the current Metagame refers to being able to play creatures as big as or bigger than Affinity's quickly, while actively attacking the manabase of archetypes like Boros Synthesizer without difficulties, as they usually run only four bridges.

Jund Cascade

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Rather than crushing the opponent's lands, Jund Cascade opts for direct interaction, as a classic Midrange would do, establishing 1-for-1 trades while accumulating value with its permanents. To speed up mana, instead of betting on bad top decks like Utopia Sprawl and Arbor Elf, Jund Cascade resorts to another powerful Pauper interaction:
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Cleansing Wildfire with Bridges is another recurring point of discussion in the community, and is widely played not only in Cascade variants, but also in Flicker archetypes and even in lists that don't fit exclusively into the Midrange category, like Jeskai Ephemerate. The idea is basically to target one of the Bridges with Cleansing Wildfire to get a basic land and draw a card, but Cleansing Wildfire also has some use in destroying lands enchanted with Utopia Sprawl or make the opponent lose mana by destroying a Bounceland. With that, Jund Cascade can start deploying its medium and large threats, with all of them offering some 2-for-1 effect with Monarch, or with a draw, or with more bodies on the board.
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Then the threats get even bigger when casting the Cascade creatures, which will always bring along something that will be detrimental to the opponent's plans, be it recursion, discard, removals or more creatures.

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Jund Cascade is an interesting option for Pauper, but struggles to keep up with the current aggressive clock and cheap value that other Midranges offer, despite still being a solid choice in the Metagame.

Honorable Mentions

Mardu Reanimator

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Mardu Reanimator sets up a huge collection of small interactions to establish its game plan, such as Cleansing Wildfire + Bridges, Monarch, Faithless Looting + Flashback, and the not yet mentioned in this article, Ephemerate.
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Ephemerate interactions, also known as Flicker due to the similarities with Ghostly Flicker + Archaeomancer engines, usually present in Control and Combo decks, involves casting Ephemerate on any other creature you want to reuse its ETB effect or protect from removal, and at your upkeep, cast the spell for its Rebound cost, targeting a creature whose effect entering the battlefield involves returning a spell from your graveyard to your hand, where you will target Ephemerate which will now be in your graveyard, allowing you to repeat any ETB loop each turn. This loop is extremely famous on a number of occasions, especially for the combat lock with Stonehorn Dignitary, but Mardu Ephemerate tries to abuse it to the fullest with its creatures, going from an army of tokens with Soul of Migration, recurring draw with Thraben Inspector, lifedrain with Bleak Coven Vampires and discard with Mournwhelk.
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Another iteration that the list looks to tap into is the less popular, but still interesting, strategy of reanimating your creatures with Late to Dinner, allowing you to quickly replay Evoke threats after casting them at the alternate cost, as well as allowing you to inevitability of always having a copy of Late to Dinner, a copy of Ardent Elementalist and a copy of Ephemerate in Late-Game, as you can reanimate Ardent Elementalist, return Late to Dinner and reanimate whenever necessary when targeting Ardent Elementalist on Ephemerate's first cast (to return Late to Dinner).

Aristocrats

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Sacrifice has gained new elements in recent years and has been almost ubiquitous in most competitive formats. Although not yet in Pauper, Sacrifice-based decks, known as

Aristocrats

have occasional results in leagues and have their own engine aimed at the expense of creatures to gain value and make others stronger.
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While not a Tier 1 strategy, there are numerous variants in Pauper, including combo-oriented versions such as the Golgari and/or Rakdos running Persist creatures like Safehold Elite and Putrid Goblin along with effects that add +1/+1 counters like First Day of Class or Ivy Lane Denizen, and I think the inclusion of one or two more elements in the future can easily make this strategy competitively viable.

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Domain Zoo

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At last, Domain Zoo relies on Kor Skyfisher interactions and ETB effects to establish value while looking to use multiple land types to increase the potential of its Domain spells.
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The highlight of this list is Nylea's Presence to give all land types to an enchanted land while drawing a card, causing any of the above effects to deal 5 damage to the opponent without difficulties, and allowing it to run aggressive, low-cost creatures such as Wild Nacatl and Qasali Pridemage.

Conclusion

We've come to the end of the presentation of Pauper's top Midrange decks in the first half of 2022. Of course, there are several other lists that could be presented here, but some fit better in the Control category by the format's standards, while others were left out for not being as relevant to its history. Next week, I return with another article commenting on Control archetypes and how they operate without planeswalkers. And if you want to know more about Pauper's engines and the source I took as base for the categories I mentioned in this article, PFP's Alex Ullman made a excellent articlelink outside website about them a few weeks ago. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Journalism student, writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually every Magic: The Gathering competitive format and is a lifetime Final Fantasy fan.

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